Commentary. While Italy sends “very strong gestures” to Egypt over the murder of Giulio Regeni, the government in Cairo keeps insinuating the young student was a spy.

Rome stammers, Cairo bites

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni calls it “totally inadequate cooperation,” but the Egyptian authorities, far from admitting the systematic violation of human rights on their soil, continue to utter something more like a blatant provocation.

Probably, when the minister pronounced these words on Friday, he was not referring to the last challenge of Cairo’s vice president of the House of Representatives, Soliman Wahdan, who has revived the false lead of Giulio Regeni as an intelligence spy, going so far as to fear “enormous problems” with Italy if this proves true. Certainly neither to the invective of the former Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim Yossef, who Friday again raised the thesis of the “criminal” conspiracy. Neither to the too-propagandized requests by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to solve cases of citizens who have disappeared or died in unclear circumstances in Rome, Chicago and, lastly, on Monday in London, as an explicit response to the pressure exerted by the British and American governments on the Regeni case.

However, Gentiloni cannot miss the fact that one of the charges against Ahmed Abdallah, the consultant of the Regeni family arrested on April 24, is as “terrorist group leader,” a crime that warrants a death penalty.

So it is difficult to understand what the representative of the Renzi government referred to when speaking to Radio 1 on Friday morning. He confirmed “our pressure and our search for the truth” about the Regeni case, although “unfortunately Italy still has not have satisfactory answers” from Cairo. According to Gentiloni, recalling Ambassador Maurizio Massari for consultation on April 8 was already “a very strong gesture in the relations between states.” Now the government is just waiting to see the “results” of the “new contacts between the prosecutors,” after the chief prosecutor of Rome Giuseppe Pignatone “sent a new letter of request to Egypt.”

The minister wants this to be very clear: “If anyone imagined that the passage of time would have reduced Italy’s attention, for us the return to normality of relations depends only on serious cooperation; we also continue exercising other forms of diplomatic pressure until we get to the truth, but we know it will not be easy.”

The head of the Foreign Ministry also reports having “talked about the issue in Luxembourg” and found during the meeting of European foreign ministers a “general awareness of the fact that this was a very serious case, including the terrible details in which it occurred.” But in the words of Gentiloni, one can perceive the concern of the Renzi government to lose new opportunities for a privileged partnership with the el-Sisi regime: “We are not naive,” admitted the minister. “We know that in this cooling of relations between Italy and Egypt, someone will try to win a special position in relations with Cairo.” Although, he concluded, “we cannot be moved based on this.”

Much less cautious was the speech delivered in front of the cameras of a private Cairo broadcaster, Ten TV. The Vice-President of the Egyptian Chamber said: “Regeni’s murder is an isolated incident, and it is stupid to accuse the government of having played a role in this crime,” Soliman Wahdan said. “Egypt is a state of laws, and it will work to find those responsible and judge them. But if it were shown that Regeni was a spy, it would create a huge problem between Egypt and Italy. The trust between the two countries would be lower.”

Wahdan repeated the official Egyptian version comparing the Regeni murder to that of Attorney General Hesham Barakat, as “in the past had done both President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Minister of Internal Affairs Shoukry,” reports Agenzia Nova. “For our General Prosecutor Nabil Sadeq, Regeni is not less important than the martyr Hesham Barakat,” Wahdan said. “Although Barakat was killed in a terrorist attack, after seven months we found the culprits. Investigations take time. The delegation that traveled to Italy to present the results of the investigations has done its duty, despite the complaints to the Egyptian government.”

But to the Italian opposition, we are now in a holding pattern: The assured “attention” by Minister Gentiloni, they say, should be replaced by concrete actions. According to Nicola Fratoianni, of the Italian Left, “maybe it’s time to declare Egypt an ‘unsafe country,’ especially if, as is happening, the repression of the el-Sisi regime against the human rights of Egyptian activists worsens.” According to Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the M5S, “the government needs to implement, now more than ever, an immediate arms embargo and any material that can be used for internal repression by the government, as provided by a decision of the of the European Union Council in August 2013, and as requested by various documents presented to the Chamber.”

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