Europe's dangerous Egypt policy
On 3 February 2016, the mutilated body of Giulio Regeni was discovered on the outskirts of Cairo. The Italian scholar had been conducting research in Egypt on the development of independent trade unions. This evidently attracted the attention of the country's security authorities, who fear any form of unmonitored civil society organisation as potential opposition.
Regeni was last heard from on the evening of 25 January 2016, the fifth anniversary of the start of the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime, a day when Cairo was swarming with security forces. Multiple witness statements and circumstantial evidence indicate that Regeni was subjected to inhumane torture by Egyptian security forces for days. Although an in-depth investigation by the Italian public prosecutor's office was able to identify four high-ranking employees of the Egyptian security apparatus as the main perpetrators, the authorities in Cairo have stubbornly refused to initiate criminal proceedings.
Europeans upgrade Egypt's status rather than pushing to uncover the truth
In the wake of the murder, European governments and parliaments have repeatedly demanded clarification of the incident. The German government, which itself has gathered intelligence on the case, has addressed Regeni's fate in a series of bilateral talks. However, the incident has not had any consequences for Europe's political and economic relations with the most populous country to their south.
"[N]ot much has changed in EU policy towards Egypt since 2019 and recommendations from human rights groups and the European Parliament remain largely unheeded."
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— Reprieve (@Reprieve) January 28, 2021
And yet the gruesome murder of Giulio Regeni is not an isolated case. Ever since the military coup in 2013, led by then defence minister Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the state of Egyptian civil society has deteriorated dramatically. International observers estimate that there are as many as 60,000 political prisoners languishing in the horrendously overcrowded Egyptian prisons. Local human rights activists report widespread and systematic use of torture at police stations.
According to Human Rights Watch, Egypt is among the ten states where the death penalty is most frequently imposed and carried out. And Reporters Without Borders cites Egypt under President Sisi as one of the countries harbouring the highest number of imprisoned journalists.
But instead of holding Egypt's leadership politically responsible for this situation, the Europeans have repeatedly upgraded its status in recent years. Since Regeni's death, there have been a number of high-level state visits. Bilateral development loans and, not least, generous support under a comprehensive IMF agreement have been granted without any political conditions being imposed. Particularly worthy of note is that arms exports also continue to flow on a grand scale. Egypt is a major client not only for Germany and France. Even Italy continues to supply the country with weapons.