Analysis. Seeing no change in the Egyptian posture and no concrete advances in the investigation, Rome finally took action to pressure the el-Sisi government for answers in the torture death of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

Italian chamber president severs ties with Cairo over Regeni killing

The President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico, had given the Egyptian state two months and 10 days to make a real, concrete change in the investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Giulio Regeni. But it was a waste of time, as demonstrated by the latest meeting between the Roman prosecutor and the Egyptian attorney general.

“With great regret I must announce that the Lower House will suspend all types of diplomatic relations with the Egyptian Parliament until there is a real breakthrough in investigations and a trial that resolves the case,” Fico said. “I went to Cairo in September. I said to both President el-Sisi and to the president of the Egyptian Parliament that we were at a standstill. I got some reassurances from them, but so far there has been no breakthrough.”

Fico did what three governments did not dare to do: make Egypt pay a price—even a symbolic one—for almost three years of silence and false leads, three years that went by as Egyptians like Regeni were being murdered just like him. While it’s true that in April 2016, two months after the discovery of the body of the young researcher, the Renzi government recalled the Italian ambassador back to Rome, the economic, political and military relationships with Egypt have been completely unaffected. Then, our ambassador returned to Cairo in mid-August 2017, even though the investigation had uncovered nothing at all.

Thus, after the dramatic “break” by the Rome prosecutor with the Egyptian authorities, deciding to officially name seven Egyptians as suspects to counter the willful apathy of the Egyptian investigators, Thursday it was Fico’s turn to raise his voice, as he did on Sept. 17 in Cairo: as he said back then after his meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the false leads have murdered Regeni a second time. He demanded that el-Sisi unveil the workings of the system that had killed him. That, however, would have posed a political problem for the coup-installed general, whose power is based on that very system of institutionalized repression.

The latest development, however, poses another problem for the Egyptian side: ever since 1999, after the signing of a cooperation protocol, the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the Egyptian House of Representatives have created a group for parliamentary cooperation that holds annual meetings on bilateral, regional and international issues. The protocol provides for regular meetings between bodies made up of parliamentarians from the two countries, which play a role in maintaining relations between the two governments, especially in conjunction with intergovernmental summits.

On Thursday, during the early afternoon, all the leaders of parliamentary groups in the Chamber of Deputies unanimously voiced their approval of Fico’s decision. However, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was quite displeased on learning of this development as he reached the G20 in Buenos Aires: “I have not spoken with Fico. I don’t know for what reason he decided that.” Conte made a show of wondering about “the reason,” as if that wasn’t clear to everyone who cares about the issue. A few hours earlier, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gave his own spin, saying that “the government and the Parliament are doing everything possible. Unfortunately, we are in government in Italy and not in Egypt.”

But it is precisely on the Italian side that the response has been lacking: if they were indeed doing everything possible, they would have suspended all relations of any kind with such a country, which violates human rights and massacres its own people with hunger and repression. The other vice-prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, Fico’s party colleague in the M5S and himself the star of a visit to Cairo that veered close to sheer absurdity, has remained silent.

The Regeni family spoke out Thursday, expressing their “gratitude for the valuable and unceasing work of the prosecutor’s office,” as well as for Fico’s commitment. “From the outset [he] has shown in a firm and concrete manner that he stands by us in our fight.”

Now, the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies and the Rome prosecutor are fighting on the front line of this renewed push. On Wednesday, the Prosecutor’s office in Piazzale Clodio announced the imminent formal naming as suspects of a number of Egyptian intelligence workers thought to be materially responsible for Regeni’s death. Thursday, there was information going around about seven people who are going to be named as suspects of kidnapping. The Italian prosecutors have evidence in hand in the form of phone records showing that Regeni was being followed and surveilled until the day of his disappearance.

Among those to be named as suspects are Major Magdi Abdlaal Sharif and Captain Osan Hemly, who are thought to have run the operation, which also involved the head of the street vendors’ union, Mohammed Abdallah. The latter, who filmed Regeni with a hidden camera on Jan. 7, 2016, provides the evidence for a long period of surveillance directed at him, not only “three days” as Cairo wanted everyone to believe.

A year ago, the Rome prosecutor had given out details on 10 suspects, with name and rank: two generals, two colonels, a major, three captains and two agents. Certainly, they were not the final cogs in the system. They were suspected of involvement both in Regeni’s murder and in setting up the false leads, most egregiously the execution-style shootout in which five innocent Egyptians were killed in March 2016 after documents belonging to Regeni were planted at the home of one of them.

The decision by the Rome prosecutor to proceed with naming the seven new suspects was taken after the failure of the top-level meeting in Cairo this week, where the Egyptian prosecutors delivered just seven pages, containing virtually no information. Egypt has not truly cooperated at any point since February 2016, knowing that if they were to do so, the entire Egyptian regime would end up on the bench of the accused.

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