Against a backdrop of lawyers and human-rights defenders in Egypt, it appears that Regeni was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he disappeared that terrible Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring. He was probably not far from Tahrir Square and in a closed-door meeting or outdoors together with at least 40 people. It is possible that at that time he was stopped with others and aroused suspicion as a foreigner. The circles of independent trade unions, which Regeni frequented for research purposes, have long been infiltrated by the military and civilian intelligence services.
The military’s attempts to quell public dissent have happened in so many different ways and circumstances during the past five years. A striking example is the Tamarrod (rebellion) movement, which was forged by the military to force the resignation of former president Mohammed Morsi and to justify the 2013 military coup in the eyes of the public. The group’s cells, which began as a petition to collect signatures, were formed by youth paid by the military. Since then all forms of dissent have been prevented. This was particularly the case inside the factories and among independent unions. Pro-government unions were the first to lose steam in the struggle for workers’ rights; after that, smaller rank-and-file or informal groups were infiltrated by intelligence agents.
It is possible that Regeni was betrayed by one of his contacts and brought to the attention of the police. This precipitated his arrest, which turned into torture and slow death days later. Why was the alarm not immediately sounded when he disappeared? In an interview with il manifesto, Egyptian activist Mona Seif explained that it is normal practice to wait to give public notice of the disappearance of a relative.
Waiting, however, may have been fatal. By the time the Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, contacted his Egyptian counterpart on Jan. 31, Regini’s body had already been found in a ditch in horrifying condition. Here commenced the swarm of rumors and false leads, including suggestions of a car accident, to explain his death.
The latest misdirection effort by the Egyptian authorities is allegations of homosexuality. Two people arrested a few hours after the murder on similar charges were later released. Regeni may have piqued the attention of the intelligence services because of his affiliation with the American University in Cairo (AUC), referred to by many European researchers as “USA in Egypt.” After the news of Regeni’s death was released, AUC requested that all researchers, students and doctoral candidates cancel travel plans to Egypt for security reasons.
In addition to the condition of the body, al-Sisi will not confirm the difficulties the Italian investigative team has encountered in Egypt. The lead prosecutor, Sergio Colaiocco, had to send an international letter of request to access the findings of the initial autopsy. Italian investigators in Cairo could only see the phone records and establish that Regeni’s disappearance occurred half an hour after leaving home — only confirming what is already known.