On 25 January, during celebrations in Cairo of the fifth anniversary of the rising against the Mubarak dictatorship in 2011, Giulio Regeni disappeared. He had been seized by the thugs of the secret services of the Al Sisi government.
On 4 February, his tortured and broken body was found in a ditch outside Cairo. Giulio Regeni, aged 28, was a doctoral student from Cambridge University, a socialist militant, and a freelance writer for the Italian left-wing paper Il Manifesto, for which he wrote extensively on the Egyptian trade union and labour movement. His last article, “In Egypt, second life for independent trade unions”, is a stirring account of the conference last month in Cairo of the Centre for Trade Unionism and Workers services (CTUWS). Regeni described CTUWS as a “beacon of independent trade unionism”,” and as evidence that, despite widespread repression, the movement to unite and coordinate resistance is becoming “stronger by the day”. By the end of the conference, he relates, “there were 50 groups that had signed on to the closing statement, representing sectors from transport, schools, agriculture, the large informal sector…” “Notable was the presence of large numbers of women whose actions were sometimes the most appreciated and applauded… “The assembly concluded with the formation of a widely representative committee to lay the basis of for a national campaign for trade union freedom”.
The Egyptian government tried to deny any complicity in the death, claiming it was due to a car crash or a drunken brawl. The autopsy in Italy a few days later revealed massive torture and a broken neck. Anger is mounting, putting Italian prime minister Renzi on the spot over his dealings with Al Sisi, whom he has called “a great statesman”. “Your war is our war, your stability is our stability”, said the Italian prime minister, endorsing Al Sisi’s self promotion “as the bulwark in the fight against Islamic State”.
The determining fact is that Italy is Egypt’s major commercial partner in Europe, and its third in the world after the USA and China. Deals worth billions in oil, high tech, machinery, etc., are at stake. One of Renzi’s minions was on the point of signing a $10 billion investment in newly discovered gas deposits in Egyptian waters when the story of Giulio’s murder forced a pause. Renzi is also aware that his ambitions to restore Italy to the “big league” of European and international powers will require the help of Egypt in Libya, a former Italian colony and only a few hundred miles distant from Italy across the Mediterranean.
To honour Giulio, the “Januarians”, a group of Egyptian activists referring to the January 2011 rising against Mubarak, came together in a large demonstration on 5 February outside the Italian embassy in Cairo. “Giulio was one of us. We will unite with flowers in our hands to honour and remember him. Like so many other Egyptians, he was seized, tortured and murdered”. Every serious socialist and worker in Italy should demand the truth regarding the death of Giulio and the exposure of Italian collaboration with the regime of systematic terror, torture and murder against the working and popular masses in Egypt. The decimated and abysmally weak Italian trade union movement, and its currently politically impotent radical left, could learn a lot from the tragically brief life of Giulio Regeni and from his internationalism.
4500 academics from across the world have signed a statement calling on the Egyptian authorities “to cooperate with an independent and impartial investigation into all instances of forced disappearances, cases of torture and deaths in detention during January and February 2016”.