Background The case of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize in Egypt presents a unique perspective on the role of trust in agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) public-private partnerships (PPPs). This is especially relevant given the recent pro-democracy uprisings that spread throughout the Arab world that have significantly impacted the current political climate and status of both the public and private sector, and especially public-private collaborative initiatives. This case study aims to shed light on various trust-building practices adopted, and trust-related challenges faced, in the Bt maize project in Egypt. Methods We reviewed published materials on Bt maize in Egypt and collected data through direct observations and semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with stakeholders of the Bt maize project in Egypt. Data from the interviews were analyzed based on emergent themes to create a comprehensive narrative on how trust is understood and built among the partners and with the community. Results We have distilled five key lessons from this case study. First, it is important to have transparent interactions and clearly defined project priorities, roles and responsibilities among core partners. Second, partners need to engage farmers by using proven-effective, hands-on approaches as a means for farmers to build trust in the technology. Third, positive interactions with the technology are important; increased yields and secure income attributable to the seed will facilitate trust. Fourth, there is a need for improved communication strategies and appropriate media response to obviate unwarranted public perceptions of the project. Finally, the political context cannot be ignored; there is a need to establish trust in both the public and private sector as a means to secure the future of agbiotech PPPs in Egypt. Conclusions Most important to the case of Egypt is the effect of the current political climate on project success. There is reason to believe that the current political situation will dictate the ability of public institutions and private corporations to engage in trusting partnerships.