State terror in egypt: For Giulio Regeni

On the 3rd February, the lifeless body of the italian student and journalist Giulio Regeni was found in a ditch in a peripheral neighbourhood of Cairo.  It was then learned that he had been kidnapped by egyptian police on the 25th of January, and subsequently tortured and murdered.  His crime, for the authorities, was perhaps to have researched the egyptian labour movement, to have sympathised with the aspirations of the “egyptian revolution” of 2011, to have been in solidarity with those who resist the current Sisi dictatorship.

Regeni is tragically one of hundreds who most likely was to have simply “disappeared” under the new regime.  His body was found, his name, that of a foreigner, comes to our attention.  But our post is also written in solidarity with all of those who have been tortured, imprisoned and killed  by an egyptian government set on reigning by terror over all of those for whom the January 25th revolution lives still.  (See The Guardian: “State repession in egypt worst in decades, says activist”, 24/01/2016; Amnesty International Egypt Report).

We share below an obituary for Giulio Regeni from Infoaut and an open letter and Regeni’s last article, published posthumously, from il manifiesto, for which Regeni wrote under a pseudonym. …

Giulio Regeni: instigators, culprits, accomplices

(05/02/2016)

In the last two months of 2015, in Egypt there were 340 forced disappearances. On average, three persons per day are abducted by Egyptian secret services and police in order to be brought in, in various areas of the country – and where they suffer torture, rape and violence. As some activists denounced at the end of the year, the government gave carte blanche to the officers to manage “threats to national security” as they wish, while local media keep being silent about State abductions.

On January 25, Giulio Regeni exits his house in order to go and take the metro. The young Italian student is in Cairo for a PhD and is an occasional contributor for the Il Manifesto daily. That evening he disappears, his friends search for him to no avail. A campaign to find him kicks off, the authorities are questioned; as always, they declare that they have no idea about where the missing persons are.

On Tuesday – a week after the disappearance of Giulio – the Italian minister of economic development, Federica Guidi, lands in Cairo at the head of a delegation counting 60 companies and the representatives of Sace, Simest and Confindustria*; for one of those many business travels disguised as diplomatic missions where government representatives are invited to act as valets of big Italian capital. The Minister pleasantly entertained herself with the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al Sisi himself, who fervently calls for investment in the country – boasting chances of interesting profits for the Italian companies, thanks to the opening of six new ports alongside the Suez channel. Italian trade with Egypt is worth 4 billions euros, and the visit by Guidi is helping to prepare the awaited intergovernmental summit between the two countries that is scheduled for a few weeks latter – during which Renzi and the Egyptian president will sign new trade agreements, to the delight of the business leaders of both shores of the Mediterranean sea.

On Wednesday, while Minister Guidi was shaking hands with Egyptian notables and businessmen, Giulio Regeni’s body was discovered. Egyptian authorities initially talk about a car accident, but the reality is different: he was slain and, it seems certain now, savagely tortured by his abductors.

In the afternoon there is the ritual phone call between president Renzi and Al Sisi. Of course, condolences and reassurances about the impartiality of the investigations are given. But the Egyptian Presidency of ministries … sought to give through a press statement the guarantees regarding the urgent need to  pursue economic relations between the two countries and coordination in security issues were given. The war in Libya is knocking at the door, the contracts are ready, let us not be distracted.

There is no mystery around Giulio’s death.

There is a country that, five years after the Tahrir square uprising, legitimized extra-judicial executions of militants, journalists and dissenters with the approval of the West – that is only ready to support the revolutions when they favour swift and profitable regime changes. A country with which Italy always entertained profitable relationships, from Mubarak to Al Sisi, demonstrating that the stench of blood will never be important enough to cover the scent of money.

Truth and justice for sure – because we want to know exactly how, why and at whose hands Giulio Regeni died. But may the likes of Gentiloni** and Renzi spare us their hypocrisy.

Once again, it is their business which produces our dead.

Goodbye Giulio, may earth be soft under you.

*SACE – Public Italian export credit agency; SIMEST – Mainly public company who assists Italian enterprises abroad ; CONFINDUSTRIA – Italian bosses’ union

**Italian Foreign Affairs minister

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All the Truth

He feared for his safety. This is one truth we at il manifesto can report after the violent death of the doctoral student Giulio Regeni, 28, a contributor to this newspaper who was found dead in Cairo on Wednesday.

This truth is important because of the overwhelming silence and serious contradictions from Egyptian officials.

First the Egyptian prosecutor confirmed Regeni suffered unspeakable torture, and then the Interior Minister denied those claims. Meanwhile, the Italian government demands “truth,” but contradicts itself with a business trip, led by Industry Minister Federica Guidi, that weaves peaceful economic relations with a military regime that has been described by writer Orhan Pamuk as “equal to that of Pinochet.”

We say he feared for his safety because in the beginning of January, when he pitched his last article to us about the resumption of independent trade union activity in Egypt, he insisted upon the need to sign the article with a pseudonym. We understood that he was very concerned because he sent us a number of emails about it. Previous articles by Regeni were also published under a false name.

Il manifesto does not speculate about the lives of others and is not laying the groundwork for a conspiracy theory.

We’re simply a newspaper that pushes the limits and has suffered terrorist attacks; kidnappings, like that of Giuliana Sgrena in Iraq; and killings, such as Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza.

But the cascade of interpretations and theories from officials and some news organizations is nothing short of incredible. They cite without question the version of the story reported by the Egyptian intelligence service, which naturally denies any responsibility for his possible detention and arrest. They redirect the focus toward a simple criminal act, or claim it was an automobile accident.

Some clarifications are therefore necessary: Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir square. The climate in the country was one of intense youth mobilization, not only in memory of the Arab Spring but directed against the present military regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The government’s reaction, of course, was repression and police raids, this time with hundreds of “preventative arrests.”

Regeni was neither violent nor an enemy of Egypt.

On the contrary, he loved that country and, as a doctoral student at Cambridge, was an expert on its social struggles, particularly Egyptian trade unions and economic models of the Middle East.

He passed away, according to Egyptian prosecutors, after being subjected to unprecedented violence.

It’s difficult to imagine a simple Cairene criminal raging against a foreigner without any motive or self-interest. It’s just as difficult — but you can see where this would be expedient — to blame his death on ISIS, which has a penchant for the theatrical.

Let us be clear. We do not know who his killers are. We can only suspect and watch. But we will demand the truth, the entire truth, from the Egyptian government, from Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

We owe this much in the face of the pain of his parents and the loss of Regeni’s young life.

Editorial originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Feb. 5, 2016.  The original english version is also posted on il manifesto.

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In Egypt, second life for independent trade unions

Editors’ note: We publish posthumously this article by Giulio Regeni, an il manifesto contributor who was based in Cairo while researching his doctoral thesis. On Wednesday, his tortured body was discovered in a ditch in the city. Because independent trade unions are a contentious topic in Egypt, Regeni asked us to publish this article under a pseudonym, as we have done in the past. Today, we publish this last dispatch under the author’s real name.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presides over Egyptian Parliament with the highest number of police and military personnel in the history of the country, and Egypt ranks among the worst offenders with respect to press freedom. Yet independent trade unions are refusing to give up. The Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), a beacon of independent Egyptian trade unionism, has just held a vibrant meeting.

Although the largest room at the center has 100 seats, the meeting hall could not contain the number of activists who came from all over Egypt for an assembly that was extraordinary in the current context of the country. On the agenda was a recommendation from Sisi’s ministers for close cooperation between the government and the country’s only official union, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, with the explicit order to counter the role of independent trade unions and to further marginalize workers.

Although today the CTUWS is not representative of the complex galaxy of Egypt’s independent trade unionism, its summons was heard, perhaps unexpectedly, by a significant number of unions. By the end of the meeting, there were about 50 acronyms that signed on to the closing statement, representing various sectors from all over the country — from transportation to schools, from agriculture to the large informal sector, from Sinai to Upper Egypt, from the Delta to Alexandria to Cairo.

Movement in crisis

The government’s policy represents a further attack on workers’ rights and trade union freedoms, greatly restricted after the military coup of July 3, 2013, and so has been the catalyst of widespread discontent among workers. But until now, the unions have found it difficult to turn their frustration into concrete initiatives.

After the 2011 revolution, Egypt experienced a surprising expansion of political freedom. It saw the emergence of hundreds of new trade unions, a true movement, of which the CTUWS was among the main protagonists, through its support and training activities.

But over the past two years, repression and co-optation by the Sisi regime have seriously weakened these initiatives, so that the two major federations (the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress and Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions) have not convened a general assembly since 2013.

Virtually every union acts only on its own, within its locale and industry. The need to unite and coordinate efforts, however, is deeply felt. That accounts for the great participation in the CTUWS meeting, as well as the many attendees who lamented the fragmentation of the movement and called for the need to work together, regardless of affiliation.

Comments from attendees came in by the dozen, concise, often passionate, and with a very pragmatic approach: The purpose was to decide together “what to do by tomorrow morning,” an appeal repeated like a mantra during the meeting, given the urgency of the moment and the need to draw up a short- and medium-term action plan.

Notable was the presence of a large number of women, whose actions were sometimes among the most appreciated and applauded by the predominantly male audience. The assembly concluded with a decision to form a committee, as representative as possible, to take charge of laying the groundwork for a national campaign on issues of labor and trade union freedom.

Regional conferences

The idea is to organize a series of regional conferences that, every few months, would convene in a large national assembly and possibly a unified protest. (“In Tahrir!” offered some of those present, invoking the square which was the scene of the revolutionary period of 2011-2013 but for more than two years has been off limits to any form of protest).

The agenda seems very broad but includes an underlying objective to counter Law 18 of 2015, which has recently targeted public sector workers and has been strongly contested in the past few months.

Meanwhile, in recent days, in different regions of the country, from Asyut to Suez to the Delta, board workers in the textile, cement and construction industries, went on strike for as long as they could. Mostly their demands concern the extension of wage rights and indemnities to public companies.

New wave of strikes

These are benefits that workers have ceased to enjoy following the massive wave of privatizations during the last period of the Mubarak era. Many of these privatizations after the 2011 revolution have been brought before the courts, which have often nullified them, noting several cases of irregularities and corruption.

Strikes against the revocation of benefits are mostly unrelated to each other, and largely disconnected from the independent trade unions that met in Cairo. But still they represent a significant development, for at least two reasons: For one, albeit in a manner not entirely explicit, they challenge the heart of the neoliberal transformation of the country, which has undergone a major acceleration since 2004, and which the 2011 popular uprisings and their slogan, “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice,” have substantially dented.

The other aspect is that in an authoritarian and repressive context under General Sisi, the simple fact that there are popular and spontaneous initiatives that break the wall of fear is itself a major spur for change.

The unions’ defiance of the state of emergency and the regime’s appeals for stability and social order — justified by the “war on terrorism” — signifies, even if indirectly, a bold questioning of the underlying rhetoric the regime uses to justify its own existence and its repression of civil society.

Originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Feb. 5, 2016.  English version here.

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