After nearly five years of investigations, Italian prosecutors announced yesterday they have collected sufficient evidence to charge four Egyptian security officials, including senior officers from Egypt’s abusive National Security Agency for the 2016 kidnapping, torture, and murder of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in Cairo.
The prosecutors gave General Tariq Saber, Colonel Aser Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim, Captain Hesham Helmi, and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif 20 days to present documentation in their defense and request a hearing. But the odds the men, who are all in Egypt under the protection of the Egyptian government, will cooperate are low.
No agreement was reached following another unfruitful meeting between Italian and Egyptian prosecutors on November 30. Egyptian authorities question the credibility of the evidence their Italian counterparts have collected, and claim, “the perpetrator of the murder of the Italian student is still unknown.”
There is no extradition treaty between Italy and Egypt. Unless the four suspects are arrested in Egypt – or elsewhere, under Interpol’s red notice system – and handed over to Italian authorities, they will be tried in absentia.
What happened to Giulio continues to be the tragic reality for many in Egypt. The country’s badly overcrowded prisons and unofficial detention centers are filled with tens of thousands of political prisoners, often subjected to torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. Basic freedoms are severely curtailed, judges rarely investigate abuses, and many of them are effectively in service of repression.
Egypt has recently been in the spotlight following the outrageous arrests of three senior staff of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of Egypt’s few remaining independent human rights organizations. The three were later released amid growing, and rare, international pressure.
Instead of adopting measures to persuade the government to end rights violations and pursue accountability, European governments, including Italy, keep selling weapons to Egypt and willingly ignore its abuses – an attitude that has emboldened President Sisi’s brutal rule and enabled his self-perception as an essential geopolitical and counterterrorism partner. Just this week, French President Macron awarded Sisi France’s highest honor.
The upcoming trial for Regeni’s murder could offer a rare opportunity to break the cycle of impunity for Egypt’s security apparatus. To ensure justice, Italy, the EU, and other likeminded partners, should spare no effort to persuade the Egyptian government to hand over the accused for a fair trial in Rome.