Mona Seif, an Egyptian left-wing activist, is under investigation for a note she posted on Twitter following the discovery of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni’s corpse.
Seif, 29, issued a warning on Twitter, hours after the authorities released news of Regeni’s death, that foreigners should not travel to Egypt because it would not be possible to ensure their safety during this period of harsh repression. In an interview with il manifesto, she cited the government’s track record of arbitrary arrests for her message.
“There are summary arrests constantly,” she said. “If somebody hears about two non-Arab people they warn the police saying they are spies. And these arrests may end up in detention and torture, as happened with Giulio.”
Seif, a member of the group No to Military Trials for Civilians, is facing charges of “inciting against the state” and “damage to the economy.” Since 2011, the number of foreigners coming to Egypt has dramatically decreased, discouraged by attacks on Mexican and Israeli tourists, a bomb exploding on an Airbus A321 leaving Sharm el-Sheikh and now the violent death of the young Italian scholar.
Seif belongs to a family of left-wing dissidents. Her brother, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for criticizing the military regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Her sister, Sanaa, and Seif herself have also spent time in prison for taking part in demonstrations during the 2014 presidential elections. Her aunt, Ahdaf Soueif, is a well-known Egyptian writer, and her father, Seif al-Islam, who died in 2014, was a pioneering human rights lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
As Egyptian authorities move in on Seif, they’re obstructing the investigation into Regeni’s death. After 15 days, not only do they seem unwilling to provide real help to Italian detectives in Egypt, they are feeding the media a suspect close to the Muslim Brotherhood political group, according to the Youm7 newspaper. Moderate Islamists have denounced the creation of a scapegoat and the manufacture of false evidence, apparently intended to smooth the diplomatic crisis between Italy and Egypt.
But there appears very little concrete Italian effort to reach the truth in the case, despite rhetoric from the Italian Foreign Ministry.
If the investigation proved el-Sisi’s government perpetrated Regeni’s arrest, torture and murder in the days before Feb. 3, that truth wouldn’t be conducive to bilateral economic interests. Not only that, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has always been a strong advocate of el-Sisi since his 2013 coup deposed the first elected president in Egyptian history, Mohamed Morsi.
In yet another sign that human rights are not on the Egyptian agenda, the government said Thursday it was shutting down the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. The government gave no specific reason for the decision.
Human Rights Watch harshly criticized the move to shutter the organization, which documents instances of torture. “It’s unconscionable for Egyptian authorities to shut down a clinic for torture victims, especially when Interior Ministry agents are committing rampant abuse of people in custody,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW Middle East director. “The Egyptian authorities are smothering the country’s leading human rights defenders one by one. Closing the Nadeem Center would be a devastating blow to Egypt’s human rights movement as well as victims of abuse.”
Indeed, el-Sisi, since inaugurating the new parliament on Saturday, is proceeding full sail toward the suppression of all dissent. On Thursday he signed a presidential decree ordering another group of inconvenient judges into retirement: Mahmoud Farahat, Talaat al-Ashry, Mohamed Youssed and Saeed Abdel Kerim. The four are accused of being associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in 2014.
It has become increasingly clear that the Egyptian government wants to pin responsibility for Regeni’s death on moderate Islamists.
This would only be el-Sisi’s latest diversion in the case, after his government blamed a motor vehicle accident, random crime, homosexuality and espionage.
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