Since the discovery of the mutilated body of Giulio Regeni, bearing the marks of torture by the Egyptian regime, many have pointed the finger at the University of Cambridge, in search for a way to distract inquiring eyes.
And these particular inquiring eyes have no intention of looking squarely at the truth. Almost two years since that Feb. 3, it seems the Italian Democratic Party and its allies are determined to demean the call for “truth for Giulio Regeni” that the yellow banners of Amnesty International, still seen in many city squares, remind us is still far away.
At the forefront of this newest operation we find Matteo Renzi’s tweets. Prime minister at the time of the discovery of the body, he had himself eased the path for the recognition of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup that secured his presidency. Now Renzi is seizing the opportunity of a near-unanimous friendly media to wonder, on one hand, what Cambridge is hiding, and, on the other, to declare his full trust in the Egyptian president.
We say “demean” because we are dealing with a mixture of high-sounding phrases and insinuations, the result of which is to paper over a trivial exercise in logic: who could know the truth about the circumstances of a murder better than the killer himself?
If the killer is isolated and identified, logic would dictate that they would be forced to clarify the motive and details of the murder. Now, as the Italian prosecution and even the most reticent of the press have no doubt that it was members of al-Sisi’s security apparatus who tortured Giulio Regeni to death, how can we explain the fact that we have stopped asking the Egyptian regime for the truth, and we started asking Cambridge instead?
At present, we don’t have the vaguest hint, filtered through the closed doors of the ruling palaces in Cairo, about why the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate swallowed Regeni whole on the night of Jan. 25, 2016, only to later give up his tortured and lifeless body.
Ever since then, the same people who have called for the liberation of Italian marines detained in India on murder charges are citing “reasons of state” in arguing we should find a way to silence the cries of the family of a young researcher who was knowingly tortured and killed.
Others have argued in a more pragmatic vein for the need to let go of the ostentatious freezing of diplomatic relations and engage in a dialogue with the Egyptian rulers. The Italian ambassador has thus returned to Egypt (with the Regeni family only informed of this at the last minute), the foreign ministry announcing its own initiative for grotesque “commemorations.” While those in Cairo are toasting to the “peace made,” dozens of Egyptian activists are thrown into turmoil. They see in this result a whitewashing of history and the end of their hope for shedding light on hundreds of cases of disappearances.
At stake, of course, is the security balance in the Mediterranean, Libya, strategic investments and the Italian companies with which Egypt signed contracts worth millions of euros. As we wrote before, such a move would make sense only if there was reason to believe a breakthrough in the case was imminent.
Predictably, there was nothing in the cards. And not only that, two months ago Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, the lawyer for the Regeni family and for many other families of those disappeared, was arrested as he was about to board a plane for Geneva. He was thrown in prison, where he remains today, despite pressure from European and Canadian diplomats. Metwally Hegazy is not a dangerous subversive, but a man whose son was one of the “disappeared” as well.
Even for a friendship of convenience, this is too much.
And if that were not enough, a regime now secure in its impunity is free to exert undue pressure on researchers in Europe dealing with Egypt. To cap it all, on Sunday the Egyptian government summoned the Italian, German, British, French, Dutch and Canadian ambassadors to protest against the explicit criticism by Western diplomats of Metwally’s continued arrest.
But in the Italian media, the investigation is taking another path entirely. The government and the Democratic Party are hounding the University of Cambridge and Regeni’s thesis supervisor, Maha Abdelrahman, who, according to these distinguished gentlemen, are guilty of having sent the doctoral student to die.
Cairo is breathing a sigh of relief. Abdelrahman, whom the loyalist press describes as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has become the scapegoat invoked to restore the image of a dictatorship that is now all smiles in their official travels to Europe for military shopping, with no lesser than the French president stating that he doesn’t have any lessons to teach his Egyptian counterpart on human rights.
In order to belittle Abdelrahman’s intellectual depth, they portray her as a fringe, low-level academic, one who publishes with a minor publishing house (which is in fact the famous Routledge Press), and who — get this — is only hired on a fixed-term contract. In other words, one of those who hasn’t managed to attain that object of highest aspiration, the “tenured job” grotesquely praised in this Italian-style comedy, and which is supposed to be the cornerstone of judgments on academic value, in this perverse intertwining of baronial conservatism and neoliberal intransigence.
One really wonders how much awareness exists, among those who lead the major inquiries for our great journals, of the widespread job insecurity that is plaguing the world of scientific research.
In this newspaper, we have already expressed both reservations about the silence coming from Cambridge as well as criticism toward the theories accusing the English university and Abdelrahman. We reiterate: What is being staged here is the criminalization of scientific research itself, or at least of that type of field research that requires the active participation of the researcher in the events they are to observe and analyze.
The message conveyed as a subtext is embarrassingly petty, and seems to say nothing less than: “Stay away from the study of power, give up trying to shed light on its darkest dynamics, or otherwise don’t complain if you end up murdered.”
All this should make us aware of at least this one fact: the Italian government, together with — and not, as one would expect, in opposition to — that of Egypt, has not only given up on finding the truth, but, in a clumsy attempt to maneuver around it to avoid calling for justice, has knowingly decided to shelve it, writing off any and all harm done to the victims.
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