Prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, and the Egyptian president al Sisi
Italy has been offered by the Egyptian authorities several explanations for the death of Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge university PhD student who went missing in Cairo on the 25th of January to be found in a ditch a week later. It’s been a car accident, they said at first. It’s been a Mossad operation to harm our relationship with Italy, a major economic partner for Egypt, they said after a while, it’s been the Muslim Brotherhood trying to destabilize the country. It’s been Daesh. It’s been a drug party, a robbery, a personal score-settling, perhaps a rival in love. An unpaid debt. In the end, they were keeping their word: We will investigate this case, they had promised, as if it were the case of an Egyptian citizen.
We will never get the truth.
But truth, actually, doesn’t matter. Because the truth about Giulio Regeni, found with multiple fractures and cigarette burns everywhere, six broken ribs, his ears cut off, a brain bleeding, is a truth that we already know: it is the truth of the hundreds of Egyptians whose names and stories fill the reports of Amnesty International. We don’t need any inquiry into Egypt under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. We know very well that demonstrations are banned, that you get arrested for nothing, that you disappear. That policemen fire live bullets in the streets. Torture in jails. That the parliament doesn’t exist. We know everything – and that’s why none of us dares anymore to go on holiday in Sharm el-Sheik. Unfortunately, yet, in Europe to stand with or against al-Sisi doesn’t mean to stand with or against human rights: it means to stand with or against Islam. And so truth doesn’t really matter. When the army, on July 3, 2013, toppled Mohamed Morsi, a president elected through free and fair elections, no Western journalist called it a coup: the way we had all called it, no doubt, if the Islamist Morsi had just toppled the secular al-Sisi – half a hour, and we would have seen US airstrikes starting. But anything is better than the Muslim Brothers.
In Egypt, in Syria, in Algeria. In Gaza. Anything is better than Islam.
Because men like al-Sisi, like Mubarak, it’s clear, are perfect. They are the easiest way to protect our business affairs. In Egypt Italy has investments worth 2.6 billion dollars. ENI, our leading company in the energy industry, has recently discovered a gas field worth more than a hundred billion dollars. Morsi has surely made many mistakes: something normal, on the other hand, for whoever comes to power after decades of authoritarian rule in a country of 80 million people and a shrinking economy – but his main mistake, the mistake he’s been in prison for since months, and nobody cares, has been one only: to stop Israel, during the second Gaza war. To force it to a ceasefire. Morsi has showed the world what a strong, independent Egypt means. An Egypt able to stand our ground. To negotiate, not just to agree. To give in.
Morsi has showed the world that the Arab Spring wasn’t about to change only the Middle East.
Without al-Sisi, Egypt was doomed to collapse, our mainstream media say. Perhaps he is not the best president ever, they say – but Arabs, no?, aren’t fit to democracy. Al-Sisi restored stability. But by defending al-Sisi, actually, we don’t defend Egypt, we defend ourselves. Not the stability, but the status quo.
For a Western journalist, nothing is more disheartening than being a Middle East correspondent. The majority of your readers, and unfortunately, of your editors as well, of those that from Rome, from London, from Washington, decide what to publish, what is happening in the world and what is not, already know everything. They have barely spent a week on the sea in Djerba, in their life, and they can’t mention the name of an Arab film-maker, an Arab novelist, an Arab singer, nothing, they can’t point to Yemen on a map, but they have no doubt: women are oppressed, sharia means cutting the thief’s hand and flogging infidels in public squares, and there’s no point in persisting, in wasting our tax money to try to export democracy: Sunnis and Shia have been slaughtering each other since ever, and the only thing they have in common is that they hate our freedom. Because Islam is a religion of blood and violence. And of course, it is an imposition. That’s why Arabs crowd into the mosques: because they are forced to. Islamists blackmail people by providing social services. Although in the end – it’s curious: there is a party in Europe that looks like the Muslim Brotherhood, it has the same structure: it’s Syriza. In Greece. The party all the European left would like to look like, and that throughout Athens runs countless soup kitchens, kindergartens, clinics. Dorms. It provides social services of all sorts. Yet the Greeks vote Syriza for choice: Egyptians don’t, instead, Egyptians vote the Muslim Brotherhood only because they are poor.
There’s no point in not to admit it: Arabs, all Arabs, are the blacks of our century.
Against Arabs everything is permitted.
Giulio Regeni’s murder didn’t change anything. We already knew what Egypt under al-Sisi is. And now, what we want is just justice for Giulio Regeni: nothing more. His murder shocked us because despite all what’s going on around, when we live in countries like Egypt, as foreign citizens we feel shielded by a kind of immunity. Reporters, researchers, NGO workers: at worst, we might be arrested and kicked out: but tortured and killed, no – that’s only for Arabs. And that’s why Italy in these weeks hasn’t done the most obvious thing to do: frozening its economic ties with Egypt. Using them to exert pressure. Because that’s what governments like mine actually mean, when they ask for justice for Giulio Regeni: the protection not of human rights, but of our immunity. Of our privileged position.
Be it that of Eni or of a PhD student.
Because that’s why we wanted al-Sisi in power.
To assure the stability not of Egypt, but of our interests.
On the 18th of February Mohammad Sayyid, 24 years old, a taxi driver, had an argument on the ride’s fare with a passenger, a policeman, and was shot dead. According to the Egyptian authorities, the bullet was fired by accident. No Italian newspaper reported his story, even though they all had several pages about Egypt, that day, because it’s the day we have been all asked to hang a yellow banner out of our windows: a banner that reads: “We want the truth for Giulio Regeni”. But only for Giulio Regeni.