Commentary. The Italian government should sever some ties with Egypt and apply pressure on its tourism industry in the wake of Giulio Regeni’s murder.

Italy must declare Egypt an ‘unsafe country’

There’s too much talk (and some invective) among those in recent days offering a singularly warped representation of international politics and, especially, the relations between the states.

It’s a primitive, 19th or 20th century view that risks becoming unstoppable and, in short, either a perpetrator or an accomplice to sordid political-economic relations. I’m not saying that any of this is alien to relations between states, mind you.

What I’m saying, rather, is that international relationships must not be reduced to a dark dichotomy. It’s upon this premise that I argue that the very difficult problem of relations between Italy and Egypt after the Giulio Regeni case must be dealt with in independent and original terms.

The thesis that “everything depends on petrodollars” and the related “but ENI controls everything anyway” is as vain and helpless as the thesis of the absolute inviolability of the geo-political balance of the bilateral relations in place. We must stamp out this false alternative, whereas relations with Egypt can be an open field where there is still space and time (not too much, but there is) to act with determination and at the same time, with ductility.

Now they have unequivocal evidence, and the measures we proposed against the Egyptian regime, challenged until now as extremist and irresponsible, are now shared by most observers and, it would seem, by policy makers. It goes without saying: The dividing line between acceptability and unacceptability of those proposals has been decided, in this situation, by an approaching deadline. Namely, the meeting, on April 7 and 8, between the Egyptian and Italian delegations. The failure of this confrontation led to a sharp acceleration and has made possible what yesterday seemed impossible (like the recall of the Italian ambassador in Cairo for consultations).

This is not the time for recrimination for time lost waiting for the deadline. The goal is, rather, not to waste any more time and to immediately take those decisions — such as pressure on tourism — which until recently scandalized many and today are necessary and reasonable, as well as realistic. And the same can be said about the need to review in depth the diplomatic and consular relations between the two states, in their many joints: the cooperation between universities on the athletic field, sharing among cultural programs and joint research projects. There is not the slightest doubt that this would pose a cost to Italy, but it implies an equal or far more significant cost for Egypt.

It is this factor which has hitherto seemed to elude us. Burdened by a kind of inferiority complex, we did not recognize the objective position of strength in which Italy is compared to Egypt. Take the case of the Zohr gas field: There is no doubt that it represents for ENI and Italy an important economic resource, but if we do not realize that it is even more important for Egypt, we risk plunging into a paranoid outlook. A view that would leave the energy industry to decide, according to their business interests, the fate of the investigation into Regeni’s death. At the same time, if one does not recognize the magnitude of the force at the disposal of the Italian government, our country would lose an essential instrument of pressure against the regime.

Because this is the situation: The ambassador’s recall and an exponentially sour turn in dealings with Egypt should not necessarily lead to the breakdown of political and diplomatic relations, but the transition to a phase of more intense negotiation in which Italy can exercise with the utmost determination its democratic strength and its non-warlike instruments of conditioning and conflict.

For this I insist — and Italian government now seems to be considering the possibility — that the Foreign Ministry, through the crisis unit, declare Egypt an unsafe country. It’s unsafe for thousands and thousands of anonymous Egyptians, it was unsafe for Regeni and it’s just as likely unsafe for many tourists, workers, students and Italian and European researchers wishing to travel to Egypt for a variety of reasons. As he told his mother, Regeni was “a young contemporary.” Why not work to ensure his peers, the hundreds of thousands of “contemporary youth” of our continent, consider unsafe a country where Regeni was seized, tortured and killed?

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