While Egyptian and Italian politicians trade barbs over the status of the investigation into the torture and murder of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, bilateral cooperation on energy deals appears to be running much more smoothly.
On Saturday, Egypt’s Oil Ministry announced that Italian firm Eni has begun drilling a fourth well in the giant Zohr gas field, part of a planned US$12 billion investment in the project. The Oil Ministry also said construction had begun for the Port Said processing plant that will serve the Zohr field.
The Zohr project is still on track to come online in 2017, the Ministry added.
The Italian firm is also considering building a solar station to power its operations at the Belayim oil field in the Gulf of Suez, the Oil Ministry announced Sunday.
Formerly a fully state-owned company, Eni was privatized in the late 1990s, but with a 30.3 percent stake, the Italian government remains the company’s largest shareholder.
Italy’s Edison is also moving to upgrade its Egypt operations. The Oil Ministry announced Saturday that the company signed an agreement to develop the second phase of the Abu Qir production field, making an estimated investment of $220 million. The project is intended to increse daily production by 150 million cubic feet of gas and 6,000 barrels of crude oil and condensates.
Headquartered in Milan, Edison was purchased in 2012 by France’s EDF group.
A recent opinion poll by Italy’s ISPI indicated that there is strong support among the Italian public for diplomatic and economic moves aimed at pressuring Egypt to cooperate with the Regeni investigation, suggesting that these energy companies are out of step with popular opinion at home.
Support for measures against Egypt is driven in part by a perception that the government is responsible for Regeni’s death. Of those surveyed, 60 percent believed either the state as a whole or an individual official was responsible for Regeni’s murder. Only 20 percent said they believed responsibility lay with either common criminals or a group opposed to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The majority of those surveyed — 59 percent — viewed the decision to recall Italy’s ambassador to Egypt favorably, compared to just 26 percent who had a negative view of the decision.
Most respondents were also in favor of taking further steps against Egypt: 30 percent favored discouraging or blocking Italian tourism in Egypt, 14 percent favored breaking diplomatic relations with Egypt and 11 percent favored imposing economic sanctions. Only 17 percent of those surveyed favored the speedy restoration of full diplomatic relations.
Respondents had a generally unfavorable view of Egypt, with only 4 percent perceiving the country as being on the road to democracy. More than half of respondents describe “Egypt under Sisi” as “authoritarian,” with 36 percent saying Italy should nonetheless collaborate with the government for economic and security reasons and 22 percent favoring reducing diplomatic ties. Another 17 percent said that, under Sisi, Egypt is a threat to the stability of the Mediterranean.