Shortly after being named President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico promised the family of Giulio Regeni that he was committed to finding the truth about the murder of their son. On Monday, he brought this demand for the truth to the heart of Egyptian power, first in the Egyptian Parliament and then directly in a meeting with coup-installed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The difference between Fico’s approach and that of those who went to Egypt before him (i.e. the ministers Salvini, Moavero and Di Maio, who have flown back and forth between Rome and Cairo from July 19 to Aug. 29 without in any way questioning the bilateral relations between the countries) is stark: according to Fico’s statement about the meeting with el-Sisi, Regeni was the only topic on the agenda: “I said that it was like Giulio Regeni had been killed a second time, because of all the false leads,” he said.
It is the first time such words are coming from a representative of the Italian authorities, and they forced el-Sisi to play defense. This time, instead of trying to “hijack” Regeni as a symbol for both Egyptians and Italians (as el-Sisi did previously with his “Regeni is one of us”—a turn of phrase that Di Maio reported after his visit to Egypt, and one which outraged everyone who has raised the alarm about the thousands of people disappeared by the Egyptian regime), the Egyptian president, in a statement released Monday, said he was “giving instructions to remove any obstacles to the ongoing investigations in order to solve the case, find the criminals and bring them to justice.” He did not, however, provide any further details.
In the absence of real pressure, both economic and diplomatic, no one expects that el-Sisi will really do what he said, given that it is highly likely that the Egyptian state apparatus was involved in Regeni’s disappearance, torture and murder. However, such a commitment, put into words, has the feel of an admission of guilt, if only about the blatant cover-ups the Egyptians have been engaging in since Feb. 3, 2016, when the body of the young Italian grad student, half-naked and tortured, was found in a ditch off the Cairo-Alexandria highway.
“I went there because we are at a stalemate,” Fico added. “Now we need facts, we need a solution. After two and a half years, we have to get to a trial. Without this step forward, it is clear that the relations between the two countries’ parliaments are very complicated. Without serious and substantial steps forward, leading to a trial in which we can reach the definitive truth and convict Regeni’s killers and the system that was operating behind the perpetrators’ actions, the relationships will always be complicated and tense.”
The system backing the perpetrators is exactly what Egyptian activists, the first victims of institutionalized repression, have been denouncing for years. This is the point on which Fico is signalling a change in approach: Regeni is not an isolated case.
This is why the call—ignored so far by the representatives of the yellow-green government—for the release of Amal Fathy, Egyptian activist and wife of Mohammed Lotfy, lawyer for the Regeni family, is so important. She was arrested in May, and has since then fallen victim to the well-known system of endlessly postponed hearings and continuous extension of pre-trial detention (last extended for her on Sept. 12).
After returning to Rome, Fico repeated this important point on Facebook: “I also pointed out to el-Sisi how wide the network is that swallowed up Giulio Regeni, a network that has carried out its operations even after his death, with a series of false leads.”
Fico does not have the real power a government has. But he has some political weight, and Monday he gave voice to the call of civil society, previously unheeded, that relations with Egypt should be halted—because more and more time is passing and the Egyptian regime is coming out of this reassured and legitimized.
El-Sisi, for his part, read from the same script as always: according to Fico, the Egyptian president said “he understood the importance for Italy of getting to the truth.” He has been saying this for two and a half years, and there is nothing to show for it. Now, everyone is waiting for the new meeting between the Egyptian and Roman prosecutors’ offices, which will take place “soon, maybe in October.” On the agenda are gaps in the videos delivered to the Italian prosecutors. Beside the unavailability of 95 percent of the material recorded by the security cameras in the Cairo metro, the Rome prosecutor’s office spoke of intentional “holes” in the footage that need to be investigated.
Meanwhile, on Monday the Egyptian company Gastec signed a contract with Eni—one more among the many already signed by the Italian giant in the North African country for new gas stations dispensing fuel and natural gas.