The continued presence of the Italian ambassador in Egypt is in accordance with policies and logic that are far removed from those that a sovereign and democratic country like Italy should have. Four years after Giulio Regeni’s assassination, the issue has been raised once again, in a striking manner, by his parents during a hearing before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry.
“The Italian ambassador to Cairo, Giampaolo Cantini, has not responded to us for a long time, clearly pursuing objectives other than truth and justice, while successfully promoting business and trade initiatives between the two countries,” said Claudio Regeni in the Tuesday hearing.
He was present together with his wife Paola Deffendi and their lawyer Alessandra Ballerini before the bicameral Commission set up to shed light on the death of the young researcher from Friuli, kidnapped on Jan. 25, 2016, near his home in Cairo and whose horribly tortured body was found on Feb. 3 near a prison run by the Egyptian secret service.
Giulio’s parents, who have just published their own account of these past four years in the form of a book entitled Giulio fa cose (“Giulio does things,” published by Feltrinelli), spoke explicitly of a shared responsibility: “There are grey areas both on the part of the Egyptian government, which is recalcitrant and is not cooperating as it should, and also on the Italian side, which has not yet withdrawn our ambassador to Cairo,” as they have been asking for some time. As Deffendi points out, the decision made in mid-August 2017 by then-Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano to send in a new ambassador after Maurizio Massari had been recalled in April 2016 was “a poisonous mess.”
The Regenis told the story of all the institutional meetings they had been involved in: on March 7, 2016, then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wanted to meet them “without lawyers, something we would no longer do today. That time, our emotions and the desire to get things moving caused us to accept to go alone. It was something strange.”
That was the first time they saw Renzi, but in July ”there was a new meeting, where Renzi gave us a speech as if the famous subway surveillance videos had already arrived in Italy,”—i.e. the ones that the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded for many months in vain, only receiving them two years later, in May 2018. However, in 2016, Renzi was “talking to us as if those videos had already been seen. We were stunned.”
Then it was Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, “who on March 20, 2017, wanted to convince us that sooner or later it would be appropriate to send the ambassador back to Cairo.”
And it has continued up to the present day: on Oct. 6, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told them that, “if by Nov. 28 there is nothing new in the collaboration for the investigations, we will withdraw the ambassador.” However, “before this deadline, the new Egyptian prosecutor announced in a rude letter that there would only be a meeting when the Rome prosecutor would be appointed, sidelining the leader of the investigations, Sergio Colaiocco.”
The Regenis told the members of the Commission chaired by Erasmo Palazzotto (LeU)—which in mid-December held a hearing where the Roman prosecutors Colaiocco and Prestipino likewise complained about the lack of cooperation on the part of Egypt—that during the same days in which Giulio was in the hands of the torturers, “between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4, 2016, the director of the AISE [the Italian foreign secret service], Alberto Manenti, was in Cairo.”
Could his presence have disrupted the apparatus of Al-Sisi’s regime?
“Why was Giulio killed?” asks the Regenis’ lawyer, Ms. Ballerini. “It’s not because of the research he was conducting. Others were doing research that was potentially more dangerous than his. He was killed because he was under a paranoid regime where anything can happen because there is no respect for human rights.” The conclusion, according to the lawyer, is that “Italy should include Egypt on the list of unsafe countries: over there, 3-4 people end up like Giulio every day.”
After all, as Ballerini emphasized, “it is obvious that Giulio was abducted by the Egyptian apparatus, so much so that Massari took action and talked to the Minister of the Interior and the police stations. Because, as other people have told us, Giulio was not the first Italian abducted: he was the first who was tortured and killed, but other Italians have been abducted, and in one case, one of them was very ill-treated.
For this reason,” the lawyer says, “Massari used an under-the-radar strategy, a strategy that was already time-tested and which had worked for other cases involving Italians.” As for the Italians who were arrested and then released, “they are so terrified that they don’t talk about it. One of them contacted us, saying he regretted that he hadn’t spoken out, because, as he said, perhaps people would have known that Egypt was not a safe country.”
And that’s not all: “We are constantly being spied on by the Egyptians. I have filed a complaint with the Genoa Public Prosecutor’s Office,” Ballerini added. “Some time ago, I talked on the phone with our consultants, and they were immediately called in for questioning at the Doki police. Our phone calls are being monitored, and it still happens now at conferences in Italy that there are Egyptians photographing those who are present.”
These facts have already been publicly denounced several times by the Regeni family, but now, in the particular institutional framework of the Commission, they took on an extra weight. However, Palazzotto, when taking journalists’ questions, avoided getting into the merits of Giulio’s parents’ demands: “It is not up to me to discuss diplomatic relations between Italy and Egypt. I think that the family has a legitimate right to ask the institutions for concrete and powerful actions that would restore authority to our country, making a claim to the cooperation that hasn’t been there on the Egyptian side so far.”
Meanwhile, at the Chamber of Deputies, President Roberto Fico met Ahmed Abdallah, consultant for the Regeni family in Cairo. As the M5S politician wrote on Facebook, “the meeting served to take stock of the state of the investigations, but also of the situation and concerns of the organization of which Abdallah is a part, the ECRF, which in recent years has made a brave contribution to the search for truth in a difficult environment.” These are all tiny steps forward, but at least we’re not leaving Giulio to “do things” all alone.
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