Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Italian-Egyptian tensions grow

Pressure is mounting on Rome to reconsider its relations with Egypt following the brutal murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“The case of Italian PhD candidate Giulio Regeni hasn’t been closed and the cooperation with Italy in investigating the case will continue,” said Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri at a press conference held on Tuesday with his Burundian counterpart Alain Aimé Nyamitwe.

Shoukri described cooperation with Italy over the case as “exceptional” and said Egypt is ready for “continuing the cooperation of joint investigative bodies”.

“The Egyptian side will deliver the information needed to the Italian side because there is a desire for transparency. It will, however, take a long time,” Shoukri said, pointing out that the investigation into the assassination of Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat took almost a year.

Shoukri said that during last week’s visit of an Egyptian judicial delegation to Rome the Italian authorities made many requests. “The Egyptian delegation responded to all these requests except one, which was rejected for constitutional and legal considerations,” he said.

On 6 April a delegation headed by Deputy Public Prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman, and including police officers involved in the Regeni case, travelled to Rome to brief the Italian authorities on the latest results of their investigation into the murder of Regeni, whose mutilated body was found in Cairo in February.

“The Italian authorities wanted access to the call log of a huge number of citizens, which could reach a million, who were around student Regeni’s house, the area in which he disappeared and the area where the police found his body,” Suleiman said at a press conference in Cairo on Saturday. “Egypt rejected the request, which violates the Egyptian constitution.”

The constitution, Suleiman insisted, prohibits tracking any forms of communication used by citizens who are not part of ongoing investigations.

Italian investigators have also requested CCTV footage from the area surrounding Regeni’s apartment in Dokki. The Egyptian delegation was unable to deliver the footage, which it said had been auto-deleted.

The Italian foreign minister said on Sunday that the Rome meeting between Italian and Egyptian prosecutors had not produced the required results. He added that Italy would now take ‘”proportional” action.

“When the demands of the Italian side were known in advance, the delegation set out on the visit fully aware they were going to reject Italy’s major request,” security expert Khaled Okasha told Al-Ahram Weekly.

As part of its threatened “proportional” response, Italy has recalled its ambassador to Egypt for “consultations” over lack of progress in the probe into Regeni’s brutal murder. Shoukri reacted by telling the Italian foreign minister that recalling the ambassador “raised question marks” over Egypt’s cooperation in the probe.

The recall of Italy’s ambassador to Egypt, said Okasha, turns what was a security case into a political one.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa said the recall has many implications.

“It signals that the crisis is ongoing and that Italy refuses to accept lightly the closure of the case,” Nafaa told the Weekly. “It also means that cooperation in investigating the case hasn’t satisfied the Italian side. Until this moment the impression being given is that Egypt is responsible for the murder of the Italian researcher and that it is up to the Egyptian side to prove otherwise.”

 Versions emanating from Egypt about how Regeni died have been met with incredulity in Italy and motivated Italian and some foreign media to accuse elements from the Egyptian security services of being behind the torture and murder of Regeni. The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied that security forces were responsible for his death.

In an earlier interview with the Weekly, Okasha blamed conflicting initial statements issued by security officials and the time lapse between Regeni’s disappearance and it being accorded serious police attention for “the state of uncertainty on the part of the Italians”. He believes there has been little, if any, improvement in the performance of Egypt’s security agencies.

“No new explanations or evidence has been produced. The investigation appears to be point of stagnating,” said Okasha.

For weeks, Rome and Cairo have been engaged in a tense standoff, with one senior Italian senator saying that Rome should declare Egypt unsafe for Italian tourists if Egyptian investigators continue to stonewall on Italian requests for information.

 In an attempt to calm tensions between the two countries, a delegation from the Free Egyptians Party, headed by businessman and party founder Naguib Sawiris, travelled to Italy on Monday. Shehab Wageih, spokesperson of the party, said the delegation was scheduled to meet with the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Italian parliament and would stress the importance of bilateral relations in the political and economic fields.

Regeni’s parents say that Egypt’s explanations of their son’s death are not credible and have pressed the Italian government to step up pressure on Cairo by declaring Egypt to be “unsafe”.

Last week the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published a lengthy report documenting 533 forced disappearances in Egypt over the last eight months. Though the truth about Giulio has not yet emerged, the report said, his death has brought the phenomenon of forced disappearances to public attention. The newspaper started its report by quoting Regeni’s mother saying, “What happened to Giulio is not an isolated case”.

Nafaa believes that the government’s handling of the case has contributed to the impression that Egypt has something to hide.

“If the government continues to deal with the issue in the same way it will complicate not only relations with Italy but with Italy’s European neighbours,” he said.

On Tuesday, Italian MEP Gianni Pittella, leader of the European Parliament Socialists and Democrats caucus, called on the European Union to reconsider its relations with Egypt in light of Regeni’s murder.

A day earlier, Italy’s Lower House speaker, Laura Boldrini, said that Europe should cooperate in seeking the truth about what happened to Regeni.

“‘When a European citizen is treated in such a way I believe that the Europe should jointly ask for the truth,” she said.

The European Parliament held a plenary session on 10 March to discuss human rights in Egypt. The parliament passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority recommending an EU-wide embargo on the export of any form of security equipment and military aid to Egypt and condemned continued security cooperation and arms deals between Egypt and EU member states, most notably France, Germany and the UK.

“Dealing with the case transparently is in the interests of Egypt. The Egyptian president should be following the developments of the Regeni case personally. It is not a security case but a political one, and was so from the beginning since it is inextricably tied up with human rights,” said Nafaa.

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