At the end of February, a month after the disappearance in Cairo of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, the official Egyptian investigation into his torture and death has reported. The murder, so the Minister of the Interior claimed, was “most likely” due to a “personal vendetta”, in a context of “young Arab/ foreign contacts” where drugs freely circulated.
This cynical nonsense was of a piece with the same minister’s claim, when Regeni’s body was first found, that death was “most likely” due to the victim being struck by a car. The autopsy in Italy revealed no evidence of any drugs, but that refutation will not discomfort the dead-eyed thugs in power in Cairo. For them, this whitewash is only to prepare the ground for an official verdict, perhaps naming a killer, which will exonerate the real culprits: the state’s murderous security apparatus.
The Minister signals his confidence that the Italian authorities, in spite of their repeated angry demands for a transparent investigation,will have to swallow what finally arrives on their plate. The Italians know that in Egypt, one regime after another has sought to outdo the previous in mass repression. Italy has accepted without protest, as chief of the investigation, a person who in 1993 was condemned for torture, murder and falsifying his police report on a prisoner. His sentence was immediately annulled, and he was promoted for “good conduct” to become Director of Security in Giza. And Italy’s own investigating team in Egypt was from the beginning excluded from any autonomous role.
The leaders of both countries know that the situation carries serious risks of damaging their lucrative commercial, political and strategic ties. That is all the more likely if the official stitch-up transforms the anger of the Italian population into public protests on the streets. In Egypt, too, Giulio was highly esteemed among the re-emerging forces of rebellion. Italian prime minister Renzi faces upcoming regional elections and a referendum on institutional reform.
And the situation in Libya, a former Italian colony, only a few hundred miles away across the Mediterranean, and now contested by rival governments and gangs, is becoming more critical. Renzi’s ambition to prove himself the man who will redeem the global ambitions of the tricolour may push him to dice with a military adventure in deflect the deepening contradictions. Not for the first time in the country’s history, illusions of a colonial role in Libya may mark a critical change in the relationship of class forces in Italy.