There are many shadows moving around the brutal murder of Giulio Regeni. Large flaws and obvious contradictions have animated alternate theories that have circulated between the shores of the Mediterranean, the English Channel and the Atlantic. It is plausible that the Egyptian regime knows and is setting certain contrivances into motion, blowing smoke and laying out inextricable paths, preparing a version to their benefit.
Although it is clear to all diplomats that a red line has been crossed, and attempts at misdirection abound, neither the Foreign Ministry nor Brussels is going to apply pressure or issue any ultimatums.
Thus, the inability to carry out a political analysis has allowed a proliferation of conspiracy theories. All this should lead us to adhere to what we know: what Regeni was doing in Egypt, the numbers of the disappeared, the stories of other foreigners killed in prison, the wounds left on Regeni’s body, and the petitions of academics and citizens – in Italy as in England – because of the way the parliaments have handled the affair.
But this plot has been artfully diffused, often set out between the lines, strictly without proof or even clues, and in direct contradiction to the assertions Regeni’s family.
The first crows took flight as soon as Regeni’s body was discovered. The newspapers on the right proclaimed he was a spy. Speculation prevails, but Regeni did not think, as has been trumpeted by the media chorus, that al-Sisi is the best that Egypt could produce for our security.
And besides, even today there are few indignant voices, whether against Edward Luttwak, who on television said to forget about this event and that perhaps Regeni was killed by his lover, or against analysts inviting us to turn their nose up.
The second argument concerns the infiltration of Islamic terrorism in the Egyptian security apparatus. The provocative use of the term “Islamic terrorism” is meant to refer to and discredit the Muslim Brotherhood. It should be recalled in this regard that the Muslim Brotherhood, despite its distinct inability to run the country between 2012 and 2013, still produced the country’s first parliament and the democratically elected president of the Egyptian Republic.
Their categorization as a “terrorist group” after the military coup of 2013 led by General al-Sisi was the result of strategic pressures of another great Western ally, Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud has long had political and strategic rivalries with the Muslim Brotherhood, which it sees – if we really want to delve into doctrinal aspects – as too liberal. To expose this internal plot admits the failure in the mission from which the regime derives its legitimacy: to restore order against the Islamists.
The third theory that has recently gained ground is the international conspiracy to damage the Italian-Egyptian relationship, with reference to economic energy interests and strategic positions toward Libya.
This argument claims that the information Regeni had in his possession had been passed to him by his supervisor at Cambridge University to be filtered outside the academic sector. This argument suggests that Regeni was perhaps the victim of a complex network of British intelligence, with which his Cambridge supervisor was colluding.
This ignores much of the structure of field research: the fact that any graduate student shares of their own research data with his supervisor, and is usually a person chosen and liked through building a relationship of cooperation and trust, and getting advice on the most appropriate method of observation with respect to the phenomenon under study.
It is certainly possible that an ethnographic investigation that takes advantage of the method of participant observation will attract the attention of those unable to comprehend the study of dynamics of political change. This cannot be directed under the pretense of the “neutrality of knowledge”, but from a genuine intellectual effort to facilitate emancipatory practices.
It is surprising, however, that this ignorance also afflicts Italian reporters, who apparently are ready to turn their pens to the concept of the “embedded researcher.” Here, they see a spy or the manipulation of “young, unsuspecting” doctoral students and researchers working in the field in sensitive situations, exchanging information, and collaborating with consultants and newspapers.
Certainly it is important that the investigation proceed without excluding any field of inquiry.
It is equally important to do so without violating the victims of their role of intent, or representing them as a naive puppet.
Conspiracy theories generally serve to complicate a simple framework, to pull the wool over what seems obvious to all, perhaps in order to accommodate some kind of semi-exculpatory story. The reality, in most cases, is disarming precisely because of its banality.
As Khaled Fahmy noted, the Egypt of today, and especially that of Jan. 25, is going through an unprecedented phase of paranoia, which could easily push the chains of command past the point of no return.
The fact remains that the dead body of Regeni threw a lot – too much – light on how security is maintained in Egypt.
The only sure thing is the political backdrop of the events, and its collateral damage, is as problematic for Cairo as it is for Rome.
Here, the interests of other powers come into play, primarily the US.
Many wondered why the New York Times has entered into one another with revelations later appeared little or no solid. But many also forget that the New York Times was the only global newspaper to publish the picture on the front page of the activist Shaima Sabbagh dying in the arms of a comrade, after she was struck from behind by a policeman on her way to lay a wreath in memory of the January 15 revolution.
The great Italian media published little or nothing. But then today, in the midst of the case of Regeni, they’ve covered the acquittal of the policeman with shameful titles in the series’ video that touched the world. Territorial or social geographies of security and insecurity coincide curiously with those of the business environment, including in situations of extreme violence.
The myths of the National Defense, the division between safe and democratic West and an insecure and despotic East, between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, is a palliative measure that constantly deflects attention from the reality of the facts.
And here we come to the last widespread conspiratorial theory at this time, worthy of a regime that indicts its victims who denounce repression: Regeni was killed by some unionist or opponent who considered him a spy or collaborator.
Now, everything is possible in theory, but perhaps you could begin by acknowledging that Regeni was there to study, risking disappearance in a prison from which not even bodies reemerge.
Perhaps the value of asking these questions is to cultivate a complex truth, in an era when trade union practice in the workplace, the daily resistance to expulsion and exploitation – that in Egypt Regeni knew to be the nerve center of a dynamic resistance and change – has come to be equated simply as a burden that slows business, politics and the business of politics.
In a word, an obstacle to the “reforms” that we expect Egypt to introduce and immediately.