Cairo.  Interview with journalist Amro Ali, of the independent agency Mada Masr: there is no monolithic block, but competing authorities and rivalry within the government, intelligence agencies and the press

«Giulio Regeni’s death has unveiled the rival powers that govern Egypt»

On the day the Egyptian investigators arrive in Rome, a potential bomb could explode between Italy and Egypt: an anonymous letter to the Italian daily La Repubblica calls into question the leaders of the Egyptian government. President al-Sisi and Interior Minister Ghaffar knew and concealed the murder of Giulio Regeni.

Yesterday the independent agency Mada Masr, the only one among the Egyptian media to report on the revelations of this strange “Deep Throat”, has shaken some doubts: an almost identical post had been published on the Facebook account of former policeman Omar Afify in February. Afify, who fled to the U.S., had taken part in the Tahrir Square revolution and afterwards, took a very critical stance towards al-Sisi.

So, the opinions and theories continue to overlap. Certainly the Regeni case has had an impact on the Egyptian public opinion: it has unveiled the contradictions and divisions within the regime, intelligence agencies and the press.

We spoke with Amro Ali, Egyptian journalist and researcher for the independent agency Mada Masr.

What kind of coverage do the Egyptian media mainstream provide to Giulio Regeni’s case? A critical stance or just the acknowledgement of the government’s version?

Even before Giulio’s death, the honeymoon between the mainstream media and the al-Sisi government was ending: since last year the media, even the government owned ones, have become more and more critical, even though they still are close to the government’s positions. What they did in the aftermath of Giulio’s death was to focus on the human aspect and not on the political one, on the brutality of his murder, something that the average Egyptian knows, but seemed strange for a foreigner. This explained the coverage given to his murder.

But if it is true that only a few special theories have been brought out, that Giulio was a spy or was a victim of the Muslim Brotherhood, the media are guilty of not digging in search of the real guilty parties.

A few days ago, Mohamed Abdelhady Allam, director of the government media Al-Ahram, asked for transparency in order to avoid consequences in the relations with Italy, comparing Giulio to Khaled Said.

The editorial of al-Ahram had merits inwards: to remind us all of Khaled Said. If last year I asked an Egyptian about Khaled, he would have answered that it was an incident centuries old. If you ask today, it seems to all that it happened yesterday. The international scope of Giulio’s case has brought us back to 2010, the times of Tahrir Square.

The director of Al-Ahram has set aside his pro-government line to make an appeal to the government and to warn it, and this step should be taken very seriously, precisely because of its internal potential.

On the contrary, the Egyptian left remains silent, the one that supported the coup because it drove the Muslim Brotherhood away.

The Egyptian political scene does not follow the known canons: liberals, conservatives, socialists and so on.

What we discovered after 2013 is that, first of all, the Egyptian left feels anti-Islamist. It is fragmented and polarized between Nasserite, socialist revolutionaries, the April 6 Movement, but the background remains an underdeveloped political culture: 60 years of dictatorship have destroyed the political debate and consequently, the political positions of the left.

Is a similar division found in the intelligence services? Any internal rivalry that may have led to the present situation of chaos?

The intelligence services are not a monolithic block but they are extremely fragmented into institutionalized rival powers. We have a Ministry of Defense against the Ministry of Interior which in turn contains shadow corners, shadow personalities. It is hardly surprising that the Ministry of the Interior was not informed right away of the Regeni case or only discovered it in its late stages.

The Egyptian Ministries, from Education to Health, are complex bodies working for their own internal interests, and never for the public good. They do not function as a normal State. The problem is that the Ministry of Interior has its guns.

Will the spotlight on the state Egyptian police have an effect on internal repression? Or, once the lights go out, will the machine continue to operate as before?

Egyptian repression works better in the dark. When there is international attention, internal divisions emerge, the hawks and the doves, the rivalries within the government.

They continue closing down non-governmental organizations and arresting activists and critics, but today people can breathe a bit: it is as if we are holding a mirror that reflects outside the daily repression, and it mitigates it.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the future, if neoliberalism and economic relations will prevail over the abuses.

Today, the current economic crisis collides with the human factor, with the impact the words of Regeni’s mother have had both in Egypt and in the world. Therefore, it is difficult to make predictions because Cairo does not operate according to an authoritarian logic but a tyrannical one: there is no authority of the law, whatever it is. And we Egyptians say: you fear a weak system more than a strong one.

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