“We have a feeling that some in Parliament may be interested in resuming normal diplomatic relations. We are absolutely opposed.”
Giulio Regeni’s parents are very clear: the Italian ambassador must not return to Cairo. “The work of the public prosecutor of Rome is excellent: his strategies, intelligence, education,” said Paola Defendi and Claudio Regeni. “The government has only taken two steps, strong ones: It withdrew its ambassador in April and has not sent the replacement for the F-35. If the ambassador returns, we would send a signal of détente to Egypt that it should not be sending.”
The Regeni family continued to put pressure on the Italian government on the one-year anniversary of their son’s death on Wednesday, and thousands of citizens turned out to support them in Rome. “We heard [Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni] today. It seems that there are signals, a small window opened thanks to the wisdom of the prosecutor. And we ask you journalists to go to Cambridge to ask them why they are not interested in Giulio.” Regeni was a graduate student at Cambridge University conducting research in Cairo when he was kidnapped, tortured, murdered and dumped by the side of the road.
In Rome, demonstrators arranged themselves in rows, each with a yellow sign and a number from one to 365 to mark the number of days without truth in the Regeni case. They formed a triangle, and in between the numbers were the images of him we’ve all come to know.
What we didn’t know was Regeni’s actual face, the everyday, carefree one. In a conference call with Paola and Claudio organized by Amnesty International Italy, the parents described their son. “He was a young man, studying working. But he had fun. … That’s the part we miss most: the way he spoke, the way he walked. The strongest pain is knowing that he can no longer experience emotions.”
The garden behind the rectorate at the University of Rome was full. The sun warmed the hundreds of people there, while the staff of Amnesty distributed the numbered signs. There was palpable emotion and a desire to show solidarity. That, said one group of girls, is not “a charade. We feel pretty darn close to what Regeni did and the passion that he displayed.”
He had curiosity and wonder about the world, and he turned that into research and political engagement. In his opening address, Rector Eugenio Gaudio summed up Regeni’s drive for social justice. “Giulio’s initiative came naturally because he was one of us: a student, a researcher, a lover of knowledge and the internationalization of knowledge. He’s an example of the call to social justice, to free information against the rhetoric of silence.”
All the dark aspects of the case were laid bare: the silence of Cambridge University, the Egyptian false leads, the weakness of the Italian government and the hypocrisy of Europe. It’s a lethal mix that pollutes the truth and openly conflicts with the insistence of civil society: “a network of information, journalists, bloggers, associations, individuals,” shouted Beppe Giulietti, of Articulo 21, from the stage. “Remember when Impastato and Fava were killed the Mafia raised rumors about women, turbid affairs. It’s the same language as the Egyptian regime.”
Everyone in attendance spoke with the conviction of already knowing who killed Regeni: the el-Sisi regime. Recently the Egyptian authorities have revived the “bad apples” theory with indirect implications in the form of a video passed to the press, unrelated interviews issued by itinerant trade union chief Mohammed Abdallah and alleged investigations into five police officers.
Cairo has never abandoned its main position that this was an “isolated incident.” But it was not. “As Giulio was, first of all, a person with rights, so are the Egyptians who are systematically subjected to the same fate,” said Antonio Marchesi, director of Amnesty International Italy. “We call for the end of repression of the Egyptian people.”
In Rome and other Italian cities, demonstrators lit candles at 7:41 p.m. Wednesday, exactly one year after Regeni disappeared. The candles represented a demand to illuminate the truth. The call for support of Egyptian civil society is still strong despite attempts to suffocate the dream of Tahrir.
These requests have specific targets, beginning with the Italian institutions. On Wednesday, Gentiloni tweeted, “It’s been a year since the horrible killing of Giulio Regeni. Solidarity with the family. Commitment to the judiciary to find the truth.” But there is scarce commitment and fear that Italy will resume normal diplomatic relations with Egypt. It’s difficult to speak of a normalization, however, since there never was a real rupture in the first place.