A year after discovering Regeni’s body, Cairo stalls and Rome seeks a way out

Not much is happening with the investigation into researcher Giulio Regeni’s death except negotiations between Cairo and Rome over reinstating their ambassadors, an official source in Cairo told Mada Masr this week.

It has been almost a year since the Italian ambassador departed from Cairo and several months since his Egyptian counterpart concluded his mission to Rome, following the death of Italian student Guilio Regeni, whose body was discovered with signs of torture a few days after his disappearance on January 25, 2016.

The previous Italian government called back its ambassador, Maurizio Massari, to Cairo for consultation in April last year, and he was later appointed to head the Italian diplomatic mission in the European Union in Brussels.

The Italian government stated that this move was in response to what was described as “the unprofessional handling by the Egyptian government of [Regeni]’s death.”

In May, Italy appointed Gianpaolo Cantini as its new ambassador to Egypt, but he remained non-resident.

Egypt announced last summer that Hesham Badr would be the new ambassador to Rome, although he remains in Cairo, working as deputy to the minister of foreign affairs for multilateral international affairs.

Egypt has not yet sought the official approval of the Italian government for Badr’s appointment, according to an Italian diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source adds that the exchange of ambassadors will not take place unless a “breakthrough” occurs in the investigation into Regeni’s death.

Nonetheless, economic and security cooperation between the two countries is ongoing, particularly concerning migration via the Mediterranean, as well as on regional affairs, including Libya.

Italy only started pushing Egypt to reveal the truth behind Regeni’s murder following local pressure led by his family, the media and domestic and international human rights organizations.

What stage is the investigation at?

Italy is currently waiting for a promised invitation by Egyptian authorities to review surveillance recordings of the metro station reportedly frequented by Regeni before his death, to involve technical teams from Germany and Italy. The invitation was promised “within days not weeks,” an official Italian source close to the Regeni case told Mada Masr.

Egyptian Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek issued a statement on January 22, announcing his approval of a request by Italian investigators to send a technical team to Cairo to retrieve data from surveillance recordings from Dokki metro station.

But the Egyptian government has not yet committed to a specific date for receiving the technical team from Germany and Italy. An Egyptian official close to the case, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, says Cairo is still considering the best timing for the visit. There is ongoing discussion regarding the access that should be given to the team and what to do if their demands exceed what Egyptian security agencies deem to be appropriate.

The agreement to host a foreign technical team is seen as a retreat from Egypt’s earlier rejection to hand over recordings that authorities claimed had been lost.

But after a leaked video was aired on Egyptian state television showing Regeni in conversation with a representative from the street vendors syndicate, a number of fraught conversations took place between Egyptian and Italian authorities. In the video, the representative is seen requesting a sum of money for personal support, and Regeni replies, saying the money is not his and that he cannot use it for personal matters.

According to the Italian diplomatic source, the leaked video was edited and aired in such a way that Regeni appears to be a covert agent, which pushed Italian investigating authorities to air the full video a few hours later through the Italian flagship newspaper Corriere Della Sera. This placed Egyptian authorities in an awkward position, preventing them from re-airing the edited video on State TV, the source explains.

“What was aired [in Cairo] is around five minutes of a recording of over 40 minutes that includes proof of direct communication between the head of the [Egyptian street] vendors syndicate and an authority that commissioned the recording,” the source says.

In response to the anger of Italian authorities, Egypt’s public prosecutor issued a statement saying Italian investigators were handed a CD in December that included “all recordings of a conversation between Regeni and the representative of the street vendors syndicate, recorded by the latter before Regeni’s disappearance. Subsequently, security authorities ceased to follow the victim in recognition of the irrelevance of his activities to Egyptian national security,” the statement read.

In September, Egypt’s public prosecutor acknowledged that Regeni was under surveillance in Cairo, following a tip off by the head of the street vendors syndicate Mohamed Abdallah. Authorities had denied such surveillance up until this point.

What is the fate of the investigation?

The Egyptian source close to the case says there is heated discussion among state agencies regarding who will take the responsibility for the ongoing investigation — the authority that commissioned the head of the syndicate to shoot the video, or the authority that arrested Regeni on the anniversary of the revolution, or the body that interrogated him, indicating that the body that arrested Regeni is not necessarily the same one that interrogated him, as forensic reports indicate.

The Italian official says there are several reasons to believe Egyptian authorities are taking the matter seriously, as demonstrated in the last set of meetings between Egypt’s public prosecutor and Italian investigators.

But there are other reasons to believe authorities are stalling, he adds, the aired leak being one of them. “Dealing with Egyptian authorities in this matter was full of endless attempts to manipulate and stall,” he asserts. Some people in Cairo assume that “the Regeni case will fade away and end, but we in Rome know this will not happen,” he says, adding that the government, Regeni’s family and the Italian public are committed to commemorating Regeni’s memory.

“Italians have stopped visiting Egypt for tourism despite the absence of a ban from the Italian authorities and despite their [previous] love for Egyptian beaches, especially those on the Red Sea,” the official says.

But sources from both sides assert that Italy showed a reasonable degree of willingness to continue bilateral cooperation, recognizing that those who arrested and abused Regeni were not necessarily those who gave the orders to do so.

Italy has also accepted that those convicted will not undergo trial in Italy, the Italian diplomatic source suggests, adding that his government would accept “sending investigators to Cairo and getting the right to interrogate them.”

Asmahan Soliman 

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