On the 4th of February, Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian journalist, was found dead in the suburbs outside Cairo, in Egypt. The Italian government immediately asked for a transparent investigation on the case, and ensured the collaboration of the Egyptian government.
After initial contradictory statements by the Egyptian authorities, it has now been confirmed that Giulio Regeni has been brutally beaten and tortured to death.
Giulio Regeni was a university researcher, and worked as a foreign correspondent for the left-wing newspaper “Il Manifesto”. An expert on the Middle East and on the Arab Spring, he had been working on labour rights and trade unionism in Egypt, and had been in contact with some Egyptian opposition forces.
His previous articles for “Il Manifesto” had been published under a pseudonym, as he was concerned for his safety. His death, according to media outlets, is almost certainly related to his work.
It is highly unlikely, however, that justice will be made and that the truth about Regeni’s death instigators will emerge.
Italy is Egypt’s first trading partner in Europe, and the third on an international level, after the United States and China. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s PM, has praised current Egyptian President al-Sisi, describing him, in an interview released to Al Jazeera, as “a great leader”, stating that “Egypt will be saved only with the leadership of al-Sisi, this is my personal position and I am proud of my friendship with him”.
The Egyptian people, however, would not agree with Renzi; Al-Sisi’s Egypt is one of the most brutal dictatorships of the region. In fact, cases like the one of Giulio Regeni are the norm in Egypt: in its 2014 report on Egypt, Amnesty International said that there had been a “dramatic deterioration in human rights following the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013”, al-Sisi’s predecessor, and that “the government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly”.
Human Rights Watch stated that “authorities have effectively banned protests, imprisoned tens of thousands” and that “government continues to investigate independent NGOs and puts journalists on trial”.
Renzi’s praise of al-Sisi has much do to with economic and geostrategic interests. ENI, big Italy’s major oil and gas multinational company, has huge interests in Egypt, notably because of the recent gas discovery in the waters of Egypt, the “largest … ever made in Egypt” which, according to ENI, could “hold a potential of 30 trillion cubic feet of lean gas in place covering an area of about 100 square kilometres”.
Egypt would also be a key player in a potential future military intervention in Lybia, in which Italy would play a pivotal role.
Asking for the truth about the death of Giulio Regeni is a highly political issue. It concerns Italy’s relation with countries that violate basic human rights, torture, workers’ rights, international law, freedom of speech.
The Italian government is closing its eyes in front of Egypt’s abysmal human rights record, and is sacrificing truth and justice about Giulio Regeni’s death for economic and geopolitical interests.
The truth about what happened to Giulio Regeni is not simply a matter of altruism or personal sensibility, but one on political will and integrity, which the current Italian government appears to be completely lacking.
© Tommaso Segantini