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Reportage. Nine months after the death of Giulio Regeni, the Egyptians have not forgotten those tied to him. Meanwhile, protests over austerity are growing.

Egyptian rights group raided as nation sinks further

It is been a short time since Ahmed Abdallah, head of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (eCRF), was released on bail from prison, where he spent five months. Abdallah, along with eCRF, immediately followed up on Regeni’s case as a consultant of Regeni’s family.

Despite his release, the government’s unwanted attention has not let up. Last Thursday, the association’s offices were targeted by Cairo’s secret services. Four men in civilian clothes, who identified themselves as officials from the Ministry of Investment, tried to search the headquarters of the association, which has engaged for years in documenting forced disappearances.

The four men refused to show their identity cards, but Abdullah recognized at least one as a police officer: “For a long time they didn’t target ECRF, they just targeted me. This time they went to the body itself,” he told The Guardian.

Everybody and everything is wrapped up in the tentacles of the Egyptian repression system, the same one that keeps tightening around Abdallah: Although he was released on Sept. 10, he remains under investigation for incitement to violence and attempt to subvert the government.

In reality — as demonstrated by the questions the services have obsessively asked about Regeni during interrogations — the regime was interested in the Regeni case. On Friday, the Speaker of Parliament Ali Abdul Aal talked again about it, to reaffirm the nature of the cooperation with Italians investigators. He calls it as full and transparent. Yet in almost two months, since the last summit between prosecutors, when the Egyptians admitted for the first time that the police investigated Regeni “for three days,” everything is quiet.

Almost everything. As reiterated by Amnesty International and the Regeni family, the truth is in Cairo. And that’s where new anti-government movements are being generated, triggered by the economic crisis. The Egyptians who were shouting for “bread and freedom” in Tahrir Square have seen their conditions worsened further.

The population struggles to survive, and the demonstrations, albeit still limited, emerge from the government-imposed silence. Last Tuesday, thousands took to the streets in Port Said to protest against skyrocketing rents. The protesters shouted “Give us a house or kill us. Out the regime, out the army,” while on Twitter, posts with the hashtag #PortSaidRises multiplied.

Elsewhere in the country, while the middle class is disappearing (according to a Credit Suisse Research Institute report, it shrank to 48 percent between 2000 and 2015) the poverty rate keeps growing. It is now at 27.8 percent. Many are looking for a second job to cover the increased cost of living. The numbers speak for themselves: Inflation is at 14 percent, and the Egyptian pound will be further devalued, possibly by 40 percent.

Disouki Ahmed, owner of two falafel restaurants, told al-Ahram: “People like me who work in consumer sales feel inflation even more. I cannot raise prices too much because I do not want to lose customers, but costs go up.”

Bills rose by 25-40 percent in August, wages are declining, subsidies are cut. Loans from international financial institutions impose an austerity that affects the lower classes and the most popular products: flour, oil and beans. This situation is aggravated by the fact that Egypt imports $60 billion a year in consumer goods, the cost of which increases with the devaluation of the pound.

And what about domestic products? On Monday, the major Egyptian food companies suspended production after the government ordered the confiscation of 2,000 tons of sugar from the Edita company, enough to cover three weeks of consumption at a time when basic necessities are certainly not flooding the markets.

In the background, there is fear for Nov. 11, the date of an event organized by a new campaign, the Ghabala Movement. It is not entirely clear who is behind it. In fact, Egyptian movements like April 6th and the Muslim Brotherhood reject the protest, claiming it is run by Egyptians abroad, in Turkey and in the Gulf, who are moved and funded by foreign powers.