Every time Egypt has tried to obstruct the truth about Giulio Regeni

Every time Egypt has tried to obstruct the truth about Giulio Regeni

Almost five years after the disappearance of the Friulian researcher, the Egyptian authorities continue their misdirection and have announced that they will officially close the Regeni case

(photo: Stefano Montesi / Corbis / Getty Images) On 26 January in 2016 began the story of the death of Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher from Cambridge University who was killed in Cairo, where he was completing a doctoral thesis on independent Egyptian trade unions. Almost five years after his disappearance - and the subsequent discovery of the body, which took place on February 3 of the same year along the highway that connects Cairo to Alexandria - the final word on that story has not yet been written, leaving a case open. judicial which, to date, still presents numerous obscure points.

In recent days, the head of the Rome prosecutor, Michele Prestipino, and the Attorney General of Egypt, Hamada al Sawi, met by videoconference to summarize the state of their respective investigations, a meeting that once again revealed the insurmountable distance between the parties: the Italian preliminary investigations point the finger at five exponents of the civil secret services - untraceable, since Egypt refuses to provide their addresses - while according to the Egyptian magistrate to kidnap and torture to death Regeni was allegedly a gang of common criminals, whose members were killed by the Egyptian police in a firefight. A track already widely discredited by the investigations conducted by the Italian investigative authorities.

It is only the latest of the numerous misdirections with which the al-Sisi regime tried to cover its responsibilities in the murder of Giulio Regeni, a court case that, due to the importance and boldness of the attempts Egyptians to obstruct the investigation, has repeatedly turned into a real diplomatic case.

The latest developments in the Regeni case

The Rome public prosecutor has not yet filed the preliminary investigations into the death of Giulio Regeni, but on 26 November the newspaper Repubblica anticipated some of the news present in the file.

First of all there are two new witnesses, who claim to have witnessed the kidnapping of Regeni by agents of the National Security, the Egyptian civil secret service (the same that on 7 February 2020 arrested Patrick Zaki, who has just stepped off an intercontinental flight from Bologna to Cairo). According to witnesses, Regeni was stopped and transferred to at least two different barracks: the first is located near the Dokki metro - the station where, at 19.51 on January 25, 2016, the cell phones hooked up the mobile phone for the last time. by Giulio Regeni - while the second is a barracks used by National Security to interrogate foreign citizens.

If confirmed, the two testimonies would prove the direct responsibility of the Egyptian civil secret services in the kidnapping, torture and ultimately killing of Giulio Regeni. It would also be much more difficult to support the position of the al-Sisi government, which through its interior minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, on February 8, 2016 denied any involvement of the security apparatuses, declaring: "What we read in the newspapers they are innuendo. We didn't know Regeni ”.

The reconstruction of the Italian investigators

Today we know that those of the newspapers were much more than simple insinuations. According to Italian investigations, Regeni's death sentence dates back to October 2015, when a former gossip journalist who became leader of the independent street vendors union, Mohamed Abdallah, decided to betray Regeni and hand him over to National Security. At that time Giulio Regeni was conducting research on independent Egyptian unions and the American University of Cairo had put him in contact with Abdallah, who for Regeni had quickly become a privileged source, so much so that he met him seven times in little more. two months.

To understand how delicate the issue of independent trade unions is in Egypt, we need to take a step back and go back to January 25, 2011, the day the protests in Tahrir Square began. The Egyptian revolution that put an end to Mubarak's thirty-year government was in fact triggered by a movement known as "April Six", born a few years earlier to lead the great strike in the Mahalla al-Kubra textile factory. The strike, the first to be successful in the history of modern Egypt, paved the way for a crescendo of intolerance towards the government and calls for social reforms which, over time, became the fuel of the revolution.

When a military coup in 2013 handed over power to Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian armed forces and apparatus man under the Mubarak presidency, it was immediately clear to him that, to maintain the status quo, a crackdown would have been necessary: ​​on 28 April 2015, a ruling by the High Administrative Court in Cairo made the strike illegal, repressing independent trade unionism with false accusations of terrorism and sabotage.

For the al-Sisi regime, therefore, Regeni was just a foreigner who was poking his nose into the delicate internal issues of Egypt and for this reason he decided to pay attention to him. According to Italian investigators, in October 2015 Abdallah reported Regeni's interest in independent trade unionism to Colonel Ather Kamal, an investigative police officer, who in turn led the unionist to two civilian intelligence agents, Colonel Helmy and Major Sharif. It was the first of several encounters and in one of them, on January 5, the agents asked Abdallah to use a hidden camera to record Regeni. In January 2017, a clip of that footage was broadcast by Egyptian broadcaster Sada El Balad and shows Abdallah asking Regeni for money - part of a £ 10,000 grant from a British foundation, which the researcher had mentioned in a previous meeting - who replies that he cannot give them to him.

These are the last known images of Giulio Regeni, while between 8 and 21 January Abdallah and Major Sharif will be heard on the phone 18 times. On the evening of January 25, 2016, on the fifth anniversary of the protests in Tahrir square, Giulio Regeni left home to meet his friend Gennaro Gervasio in a café in the center, at 7.41 pm he sent the last message to his girlfriend and ten minutes later his cell phone ceased to exist. The body of the researcher was found only nine days later on the edge of a highway that cuts through the desert, next to a blanket used by the Egyptian military. Despite the disfigured face, the Egyptian authorities confirmed the identity of the body a few minutes after its discovery.

On 4 December 2018, the public prosecutor of Rome entered five officers of the National Security and the Cairo Investigative Office in the register of suspects: General Sabir Tareq, Major Magdi Abdlaal Sharif, Captain Osan Helmy, his close associate Mhamoud Najem and Colonel Ather Kamal. These are the names of the presumed responsible for the death of Giulio Regeni against whom the Rome prosecutor intends to prosecute.

The lies of Egypt

Since the arrival in Egypt of the Italian investigators, in the night between 5 and 6 February 2016, the local authorities have shown themselves to be very uncooperative. Also because two hours after the discovery of Regeni's body, General Khaled Shalabi, in charge of the investigations, had declared to the government newspaper Youm7 that "there is no suspected crime behind the death of the young Italian, whose body was found on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road ”.

The first track taken by the Egyptian investigators is therefore that of the road accident and to deny it we will have to wait for the autopsy on the researcher's body, which reveals the fracture of a wrist, shoulder blades, right humerus, fingers and toes, fibula and the breaking of numerous teeth. An unspeakable torture, culminating in a single twisting of the cervical vertebrae at the end of an ordeal that lasted nine days: definitely not a scenario that suggests a road accident. In February 2017, General Khaled Shalabi was promoted to police chief of the Fayyum.

On February 8, 2016, as mentioned, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar declared that Giulio Regeni was not a person known to the Egyptian security apparatus, calling the information reported by the Italian press "insinuations". It will take an international letter of letters and over nine months of waiting to find out that the Cairo police had investigated Regeni ("but only for three days", prosecutor Sadek claimed in September 2017), over a year to ascertain that the civilian intelligence services were following Regeni for at least a month before his disappearance. Trade unionist Mohamed Abdallah will later publicly admit that he denounced Regeni to the secret services and recorded a conversation with the investigator, which he would later turn over to National Security.

Meanwhile, among the pro-government media, the hypotheses of the crime of passion and the settling of scores for drug reasons are starting to mount, supported by alleged investigative sources that speak of "a life full of ambiguity" led by the young man Friulian, other misdirections that lead far from the truth. But the magistrates of the Rome prosecutor's office did not stop, continuing to ask the Egyptian counterpart for full cooperation on three elements considered crucial for the investigations: the data collected from the telephone cells hooked up by mobile phones in the areas where Regeni would have passed, the telephone records of people suspected Egyptians and the images from the security cameras of Dokki station, the last known place from which Regeni would have passed. To obtain this information - however partial, since the files recorded by the camera were overwritten and the few clips available did not contain images of Regeni - it would take years and numerous international letters rogatory.

On March 24, 2016, the apparent turning point: the Egyptian Minister of the Interior announces on Facebook that the murder of Giulio Regeni finally has culprits. It is a gang of criminals, five men already known to the authorities for "kidnapping foreign citizens and stealing their money", in whose lair the alleged personal effects of Regeni were found: his passport, his university badge, ATM, wallet , sunglasses, a red fanny pack, a cellphone, a watch, two black pouches and a ball of hashish. Claudio Regeni and Paola Deffendi, Giulio's parents, have repeatedly stated that they do not recognize the objects (except for documents), while the autopsy has ruled out that the researcher was using drugs.

As for the alleged kidnappers of Regeni, they will not be able to answer the charges, since the Egyptian police killed them in a fire fight. But the version leaks from all sides and holds up only a few days: from the analysis of the cells hooked up by his phone, it turns out that Tarek Saad Abde El Fattah Ismail, the leader of the gang, was 100 kilometers away on January 25, 2016 from the place of Giulio's disappearance. It is yet another farce.

The last slap in the face to Italy came in April 2019, when the Rome prosecutor's office sent a letter of request to the Egyptian counterparts to identify the domiciles of the five agents suspected of Regeni's death and registered in the register of 'investigated. To date, almost five years after the facts and 20 months after the request, that rogatory has not yet received an answer and on 30 November the Egyptian prosecutors announced in a statement that they wanted to close the investigation, officially attributing the murder to the elusive gang of deceased criminals.

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