The Regeni murder: Centuries-old friendship at stake

13-07-2016 01:12 PM

Sherine Nader

Giulio Regeni, a 28-year- old Italian researcher and a Cambridge University PhD student who was doing work on his thesis at the American University in Cairo, was reported missing on 25 January 2016. On 3 February, his body was found on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo, carrying marks of horrendous torture.

A public opinion movement in Italy, led by Regeni’s parents, has since then propagated an allegation that the Egyptian police abducted Regeni and tortured him to death, on account of his having researched Egyptian ‘sensitive issues’; he had been working on the issue of trade unions in Egypt. Egypt has vehemently denied the charge. Egyptian and Italian authorities have worked together to solve the apparent mystery behind the crime.


The Italian investigators, however, have accused their Egyptian counterparts of lack of cooperation and, in several instances, halted their work with the Egyptian investigation commission. Last April, Italy recalled its ambassador to Cairo for consultations.

The murder, which gained wide exposure in the international media, bred a crisis in the relations between Egypt and Italy, two long-time trading and political partners.


Last week, the crisis escalated to new heights with the Italian Senate’s vote to halt the supply of F-16 warplane spare parts to Egypt. 

The step is seen by many as the first commercial sanction against Egypt relating to the Regeni case. The decision, known as the “Regeni Amendment”, had been passed by Italy’s Senate on Wednesday 29 June with a vote of 159 to 55.

Negative implications

In a statement on 6 July, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its regret over the Italian Senate vote to approve the Chamber of Deputies’ decision to halt the supply of spare parts of F-16 warplanes to Egypt in connection with the murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni. This decision, the statement said, was not in line with the level of cooperation between the investigation authorities in both countries.


It also contradicted the common target of fighting terrorism, the statement said, since it impacted Egypt negatively on this front.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement stressed that Egypt dealt with the Regeni case in full transparency and cooperation with the Italians. Throughout the past weeks, it stated, Egyptian and Italian investigators had exchanged a number of visits during which the Egyptians handed the Italians hundreds of documents relating to the investigations conducted in Egypt. There was, however, no reciprocation by the Italians regarding crimes committed against Egyptians in Italy, specifically the murder of the Egyptian Muhammad Baher Sobhi Ibrahim and the
 disappearance of Adel Muawad Haikal.

The statement also expressed the ministry’s astonishment over the fact that the Italian Senate did not criticise or take any parallel action against the University of Cambridge, where Regeni was a PhD student, which had refused to cooperate with
the Italian investigation authorities.

The statement threatened that the Regeni Amendment carried negative implications on Egyptian Italian cooperation bilaterally, regionally and globally. This included “cooperation in countering illegal immigration in the Mediterranean, dealing with the situation in Libya, and other fields where Italy enjoyed Egyptian support.”

The Foreign Ministry concluded by assuring Egypt’s keenness on maintaining its special relations with Italy and its aspiration that Italy would reflect the same “care and diligence”.

“Dangerous and irresponsible”

The Senate vote was met with mixed opinion in Italy. Senator Gian Carlo Sangalli said that because the F-16 spare parts are easy to buy from the open market, the vote does not represent a real threat to Egyptian-Italian relations and should not be interpreted as an act of hostility from the Italian Senate. It should rather be considered a warning to Egypt; “Egypt and Italy remain friends and allies,” he Senator Nicola Latorre, President of the defense commission, agreed with Sangalli and saw the decision as rather a symbolic move aiming to pressure the Egyptian government so that “the truth emerges more quickly”.

On the other hand, Vice President of the Italian Senate Maurizio Gasparri of the Forza Italia centre-right party criticised the amendment. The decision not to supply Egypt with the needed spare parts for its warplanes, he said, is “dangerous and irresponsible” and is considered a setback in the war against terrorism.

Senators of Forza Italia, Northern League, and Brothers of Italy parties attempted during a later parliamentary session to have the Italian Senate’s decision revoked; however, their request was overruled.

On 9 July, the Speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal ordered the Human Rights, Foreign Affairs and National Security and Defence committees of parliament to investigate the decision of the Italian Senate.


He labelled the Regeni Amendment “an escalatory step” at a time when Egypt wages war against terrorism and despite all the joint efforts exerted by Egyptian and Italian investigators to solve the murder case of Giulio Regeni.


He warned that such a decision could have a negative impact on Egyptian-Italian relations and instructed the committees to come up with the appropriate course of action to counter the Italian vote.

Fourth-largest trade partner Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat, head of parliament’s human rights committee, said that a number of MPs have demanded that economic and military agreements between Egypt and Italy should be revised, especially in the fields of oil exploration and production, counter terrorism and illegal immigration in the Mediterranean.


According to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), Italy was Egypt’s fourth-largest trade partner in terms of both imports and exports in 2015.

A parliamentary commission headed by Muhammad al-Orabi, head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee and former foreign minister, travelled to Italy to meet members of the Italian parliament in an attempt to contain the current situation.


Egyptian MPs have also requested to open a debate on Egyptian-Italian relations in a plenary session next week. The Italian authorities, they said, must give account of the cases of Egyptians detained in Italian prisons, and must provide the Egyptian
authorities with the investigation results of the murder case of Muhammad Baher Sobhi Ibrahim and the disappearance of Adel Muawad Haikal which both occurred on Italian soil.

Because of Regeni’s research on the subject of Egyptian trade unions, many European officials have claimed that his abduction, torture and murder could be the work of the Egyptian police.



Not so naïve

Samia Sidhom, Managing Editor of Watani International, was interviewed by the Italian media and expressed her opinion on the Regeni case which she believes is of criminal, not police, nature.

Her theory, she said, is based on three arguments. “First, because as a rule, the Egyptian police never mistreat foreigners, if simply to avoid any diplomatic row with foreign countries,” Ms Sidhom said. “If Regeni—or any other foreigner, for that matter—were considered a persona non grata in Egypt, he would have been arrested and put on trial, possibly for espionage, or he would have been deported.

But the police would never torture or kill him; they know the international community would not let them get away with it, and Egypt can’t risk international “Second,” Ms Sidhom said, “even if—and that’s an almost impossible ‘if’—we assume that the police did torture Regeni, these are not the methods of torture they would use.


The police in countries that condone torture usually use methods that do not leave obvious marks on the victim; Regeni was tortured in an appalling way that left his body totally disfigured. Besides, the police would not be so naïve as to throw his body on the roadside where it would be certainly discovered and ascandal exposed.


It makes a lot more sense that they would have buried him somewhere he would never have been found.” “Finally, why should the police or intelligence apparatus have killed Regeni?” Ms Sidhom asked. “The western media claim that it was because he was researching the sensitive topic of worker unions and demonstrations in Egypt. For Egyptians, the topic is not at all sensitive; it has been reported and discussed over and over again in the Egyptian media, and is no secret at all. Anyone who browses the Internet for information on the topic will find a wealth of material and all points of view.


There is almost nothing in it that incriminates Egyptian authorities; on the contrary, it involved socialist demands that placed a lot of pressure on the government and unnecessary burdens on taxpayers.”

Ms Sidhom concluded that she believes the crime is criminal in nature.

The manner in which Regeni was tortured indicates horrendous hatred and cruelty, as though someone were not merely putting an end to his life, but taking revenge on him. Criminal investigations in such crimes might take a long time to find out who the criminal/s is or are.

“The Italians can’t seem to listen to the voice of reason and are applying pressure on Egypt because they insist it is the Egyptian security forces who committed the crime.


So they feel that Egyptians are not cooperating. Sanctions are being imposed by the Italian government while Egypt threatens to impose counter sanctions that would put the centuries-old friendly relations between the two countries at stake. But did anyone stop to ask: what if it is not the Egyptian police? Why does it have to be the Egyptian police? Why can’t it be a ‘normal’ crime that is taking time to investigate?”

Watani International

13 July 2016

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