On Wednesday in Cairo, Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of the Italian energy giant Eni, shook hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and celebrated the prosperity of relations in the last year. And on Thursday, the Milan-based Edison gas company signed a contract outlined last summer to explore and extract oil and gas along the Egyptian coast.
Almost a year after the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni, Italian officials are still discussing political reactions to the Egyptian refusal to provide answers. Ambassador to Cairo or not, other evidence shows Italy-Egypt relations have never really changed. Commercial ones, that is. On energy, nothing happened after Regeni’s death: In 2016, Eni invested $2.7 billion in Egypt, concentrated around the rich basin of Zohr, discovered a year and a half ago and able to overwhelm the energy plans of the countries of the region with a disruptive potential of 850 billion cubic meters of gas. And then there’s Nooros, an oilfield producing 25 million cubic meters of gas per day.
Not only that, in late December, Eni and Cairo signed two more concession agreements for the offshore sites North El Hammad and North Ras el Esh. The Italian company is confirmed as the first producers in Egypt (230,000 barrels per day over an area of 23,000 square kilometers, a $14 billion investment), a story that began in 1954.
Edison also has long roots in Egypt dating to the 1990s. Since 2009, it’s the only company producing in the Abu Qirin gas field in the Nile Delta (a capacity of 13 million cubic meters of gas per day), and it’s pumping 60 percent of West Waidi El Rayan and 20 percent in Rosetta. And on Thursday it signed an agreement with Egas, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, for exploration of Northeast Habi, in the Mediterranean Sea. The $86 million contract is signed by the vice president of Edison, the Egyptian oil minister and the president of Egas.
This commerce stifles the efforts of those seeking truth for Regeni. The interests of Italian companies in Egypt are well worth the normalization of relations. Already, former Prime Minster Matteo Renzi has put Italy on that course, with compliments to the coup leader el-Sisi, praising the “extraordinary opportunities” presented by Egypt and making Italy the first E.U. state to pay an official visit after the 2013 coup. The result of the close trade relations: 130 Italian companies are operating in Egypt, many of which are eager to participate in el-Sisi’s pharaonic infrastructure projects.
Rome is Egypt’s largest trading partner in Europe, an exchange of more than €5 billion a year that continues to grow. Weapons are among the sales, noted the Italy-based Permanent Observatory on Small Arms after Regeni’s death. Sales surpassed €1 million from January 2016 to September. In other words, Italians are empowering the dictatorship, dealing weapons to police and government agencies.
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