The Regeni Case: Expect No Progress

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Giulio Regeni: A name you should know. He was an Italian graduate student at Cambridge University who in January was conducting research in Cairo towards his PhD on Egyptian labor unions when, on the 25th of January, he disappeared and was not seen again until his body was found nine days later in a ditch along the highway between Cairo and Alexandria. It was clear from his corpse’s condition that he had been brutally tortured before he was killed. As it turned out, Italy’s development minister, Federica Guidi, was in Cairo with an entourage of Italian business leaders the day his body was found; they all immediately left the country.

In contrast, the Egyptian authorities were rather less punctual in investigating what had happened: it took them another five days for them to search his Cairo apartment. Nor were they very fast in finally delivering his body for shipment back to Italy so he could be buried at his hometown of Fiumicello, in the North. But obviously: whereas in a Cairo morgue only a handfull of officials such as the Italian ambassador to Egypt could have access to it, once back in Italy a much wider circle could see first-hand how brutally and cruelly he had been abused.

His death fits precisely within the recurrent pattern under the dictatorship of General Al-Sisi of those native Egyptians who somehow incite the ire of the authorities also suddenly disappearing, either for good or – if they’re lucky – emerging from local police stations having suffered brutal torture. Indeed, it is a fair complaint that the world only now has jumped up to denounce this inhuman behavior once it was finally a Westerner who was its victim. Still, how could it be otherwise that it was those authorities – with authorization coming from whatever level, high or low – who did this to Giulio Regeni? The EU Parliament, at least, is satisfied that the Egyptian government in fact was responsible, as it showed in its action today:

The Italian government itself, though, has so far been more careful than that, as it does truly want to find out what happened here. This recent piece in the Corriere della Sera gives some idea of its progress:

Headline: “The Regeni Case: Close-Circuit Camera Images Erased.” Lede: “Our investigators also did not succeed in obtaining the telephone traffic around the house.”

What? “Images erased”? We’re talking here of the closed-circuit surveillance camera images from the Cairo subway, which Regeni is known to have used that fateful evening of January 25th to get to wherever he was trying to go. Why were they erased?

Italian investigators requested acquisition of these recordings starting on 5 February, after the discovery of Regeni’s body, as decisive testimony for reconstructing the boy’s agenda and movements. The Egyptian authorities, however, took them [the recordings] only quite later, only on 13 February was it discovered that the images did not exist anymore, they were recorded over by more-recent ones.

That’s apparently what happens with those recordings, as a cost-cutting measure: after a certain period of time, they are recorded over. Too late.

And what about the mobile phone traffic, both around where Regeni resided in Cairo and the metro station. It’s no good.

The documentation submitted by the Egyptian authorities is inadequate. All that the [Italian] prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco has on his desk is a list of Regeni’s outgoing calls on the day of the 25th. The entire period before that is missing.

The bottom-line here is obvious: Egyptian officials are not interested in aiding the Italian investigation simply because they are the guilty ones. People around the world – academic researchers, potential tourist and the like – should realize very well from this incident that the only foreigners who are safe now within Egypt – presumably! – are those with diplomatic accreditation, but no others.

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