Italian lawmakers defy Egypt’s Al-Sisi
Regeni had been researching labour unions in Egypt, one of the last bastions of political resistance to the regime of former general – now president – Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
I won’t tell you what they had done to him. I saw all the evil of the world in it
The Egyptian police investigation into the killing, seen as bungled and compromised by Rome, has sparked a serious rift in relations between the two countries.
Italian Senators decided late June, by a 159 to 55 majority vote to stop selling Egypt spare parts for its war planes in response to Cairo’s reticence on Regeni’s case.
That decision triggered sharp criticism from some Italian politicians, with centre-right politician Maurizio Gasparri telling reporters: “It is absurd to deny Egypt parts for aircraft that they are using to combat Islamic State. Whose side are [prime minister] Matteo Renzi and the government on?”.
The pair otherwise enjoy a solid economic relationship. Italy is Egypt’s largest trade partner after the United States and China, with bilateral trade reaching $6bn in 2014.
There are big investments by Italian companies in the oil, transport, manufacturing and banking sectors. The mother of Giulio Regeni spoke powerfully of seeing her dead son’s mutilated body: “I only recognised him from the tip of his nose. I won’t tell you what they had done to him. I saw all the evil of the world in it.”
She has threatened to release photographs if the killers are not found. The Italian political world appears to be moved to action, too.
The foreign minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, said on 6 April that Rome would take “immediate and proportional measures” against the Egyptian regime if it did not find Regeni’s killers.
President Sisi appears unperturbed, saying the case will not affect the “strong bilateral relations” between the two countries. Egypt strongly denies any security service involvement in the student’s death.
What makes Sisi so confident that the diplomatic storm will not override economic interests? After all, Italian newspaper La Repubblica has leaked emails that suggest the presidency in covering up the murder.
It may partly be because of the size of those interests. Italian state oil company Eni made one of its largest natural gas finds off the Egyptian coast last year, a “supergiant” worth an estimated $100bn. And the geostrategic advantages for the European Union of having an alternative gas supply to President Vladimir Putin’s Russia will be hard to pass on.
Officials from Fiat, Saipem, Ferrovie dello Stato – all blue-chip Italian companies – were visiting Egypt at the time of Regeni’s murder, along with 57 other large Italian companies and the Italian minister of economic development.
Sisi may also feel safe because the same security apparatus that keeps him in power is kitted out by Italian arms manufacturers. Many of the armoured police trucks, for example, that patrol the streets of Egyptian cities are from Italian company Iveco.
Perhaps the Egyptian government is more concerned about the trade unions into which Regeni was doing his research.
In his last dispatch to Italian paper Il Manifesto, published two days after his body was found, Regeni talks of the federating work of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), which is attempting to bring together disparate workers across the cement, transport and agriculture.
According to Regeni, recent strikes “challenge the heart of the neoliberal transformation of the country, which has undergone a major acceleration since 2004 and which the 2011 popular uprisings and their slogan – Bread, Freedom, Social Justice – have substantially dented.” ●