Thousands demand inquiry into Cairo death of labor researcher Regeni


More than 4,600 academics from across the globe have signed an open letter protesting against the death of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge PhD student from Italy whose body was found on the outskirts of Cairo bearing signs of torture last week, and demanding an investigation into the growing number of forced disappearances in Egypt:

The letter, published by the Guardian, has attracted signatories from more than 90 different countries and across a wide range of academic disciplines. It is likely to heap further pressure on both the Egyptian and Italian authorities to uncover and make public the facts behind Regeni’s killing.

Italy demanded on Monday that Egypt catch and punish those responsible for the death of a student found tortured by a roadside in Cairo, and the Egyptian government dismissed suggestions its security services could have been involved, Reuters reports:

Regeni, a 28-year-old graduate student at Britain’s Cambridge University, had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt and had written articles critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government. The incident has strained ties between Rome and Cairo, which has made no arrests so far.

The victim of what Italy’s interior minister called “inhuman, animal-like” violence, Regeni had been in Egypt since September conducting research on workers and labor rights — a sensitive topic, since disgruntled workers were among the forces in the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising and authorities still worry about worker discontent, AP adds:

He also wrote several articles under a pseudonym about labor issues in Egypt for the left-wing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. After his death, the paper ran his last piece under his name, detailing difficulties facing independent labor unions, including the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services.

Regeni’s killing comes as the Italian government has ramped up its commercial and political ties with Egypt, The Financial Times adds:

Eni, the Italian energy company, recently made one of its most significant natural gas discoveries off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. A high profile Italian trade delegation — including representatives of top companies ranging from Fiat Chrysler, the carmaker, to Saipem, the pipeline company, to Ferrovie dello Stato, the state-owned railway — was visiting Cairo when Mr Regeni’s body was found last week.

However, the trade visit was cut short and Italian officials say the murder could affect the economic relationship between the two countries, depending on the Egyptian response……The issue could also undermine diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Libya, in which Egypt is a key player. Cairo is seen as having leverage over Khalifa Haftar, the general who leads remnants of the Libyan army in the eastern city of Tobruq and has been opposing a UN-sponsored peace plan.

“Egypt has been a crucial partner and surely there will be a cooling-off period if there are not the answers [on the Regeni case] we want”, says Paolo Magri, executive vice-president of the Milan-based Institute for International Politics Studies, who says the question is whether this could now lead to a “complete rupture”.

Meetings between Egyptian and American officials this week are likely to include discussion of Mr. Regeni’s case, seen by some in Egypt and abroad as another alarming sign of abuse by the security forces in a country where arbitrary detention and torture have become increasingly common, according to human rights monitors, The New York Times adds:

In Washington, Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, the president’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and various congressional leaders, the Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.

In Cairo, Sarah B. Sewall, the State Department’s top official for human rights, was to meet with Egyptian government officials. In a statement, Ms. Sewell, who previously headed the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, said she looked forward to “learning more about the challenges facing Egypt and the progress the country has made in addressing them.”

Although Giulio’s horrific death threw a spotlight on disappearances and torture in Egypt for the international media, such experiences are all too common for Egyptian activists and human rights campaigners, Egypt Solidarity adds:

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms documented 340 cases of enforced disappearance between August and November 2015 alone. In many cases victims reappeared in police custody, although some were found dead. The ECRF identified the National Security Agency, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior, and the Military Intelligence Department of the Armed Forces, as being involved in many cases of abduction and torture.

Independent labor unions played a critical role in the Jasmine Revolution against Mubarak, a factor largely overlooked given the Western media’s obsession with the English-speaking, tech-savvy, telegenic ‘Facebook liberals,’ observers suggest:

It is no coincidence that the generals finally insisted on Mubarak’s resignation on the day a general strike was due to start. The activist and blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy cites the labor strikes as “the tipping point” that forced Mubarak’s ouster, notes Georgetown University’s Hesham SallamAs in Tunisia, where unions channeled initially inchoate violent protests into an organized movement, organized labor in Egypt may yet assume a more salient political role.

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