A brief meeting is reportedly being set up between Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to be held in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, according to an Egyptian diplomatic source.
The upcoming meeting follows the announcement by Italy’s Foreign Affairs Minister Angelino Alfano on Monday, that Italian Ambassador Giampaolo Cantini will take up his position in Egypt by September 14, in light of developments in cooperation with the Egyptian authorities investigating the killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni in 2016.
“Egypt is an inalienable partner of Italy, as Italy is indispensable for Egypt,” Alfano told the Italian Parliament on September 4. “Despite this, the day Giulio Regeni’s body was discovered, bilateral relations suffered a serious blow.”
“We will continue to support the search for the truth about Giulio Regeni in all places, including the British institution for which he was doing his research,” Alfano added.
The decision to reinstate both ambassadors came after a common understanding was reached though Egyptian businessmen who work in cooperation with the Italians, says the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. He adds that “significant support” from the United Arab Emirates also contributed to the parties reaching this understanding.
Another source from the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says that deputy minister of foreign affairs and nominee for the position of Egypt’s ambassador to Italy, Hesham Badr, is expected to remain a candidate for the Rome embassy, following the return of former Ambassador Omar Helmy, who ended his assignment in December 2016.
Badr was not included in the diplomatic turnover at the end of June because Italy had not yet assigned Cantini to a new position in its own diplomatic turnover, the source says, adding that Cairo hopes Badr will be able to take up his position in Rome imminently.
Regeni, a PhD candidate who was undertaking his research in Egypt, disappeared from a metro station on January 25, 2016 as he was traveling from his apartment in Dokki, west Cairo, to meet a friend downtown. His body was found a few days later on February 3, naked and bearing signs of severe torture beside a highway on the outskirts of the city.
After several months, Egyptian investigators admitted they put Regeni under surveillance after they received a complaint from a representative of the Street Vendors syndicate, who claimed the Italian student was a spy.
Italy recalled former Ambassador to Egypt Maurizio Massari in April 2016, in an attempt to pressure Egyptian authorities to release evidence in the investigation. Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced the news that Massari would be recalled on Twitter, using the hashtag “#TruthforRegeni.”
An Italian official in Rome, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells Mada Masr the exchange of ambassadors comes after Italy “received the investigation documents requested from Cairo, sent directly from the office of the Egyptian public prosecutor to the Italian public prosecutor’s office.” The official adds that Cairo pledged to continue negotiations on how to deal with surveillance footage from the metro station where Regeni was last seen.
“We also received an explicit political promise, I won’t mention from which level, that several suspects implicated in the case would be pursued with legal integrity within a time period that is not particularly brief,” says the official. “Both sides have also agreed to abstain from announcing any details of the investigation before the technical and legal measures have been wrapped up.”
In January, the Egyptian public prosecutor approved a request from Italian investigators to allow a German company to examine the surveillance cameras from the metro stations where Regeni was reported to have been seen on the day he disappeared. By April, however, Egypt had reneged on its decision to include German experts in the investigation. The company maintained that the footage ought to travel to their labs in Germany and the United States for technical reasons, which Egypt “categorically rejected,” an Egyptian diplomat told Mada Masr at the time.
Cooperation over the viewing and examining of this surveillance footage would mark the next big breakthrough in the case, the Italian official asserts, calling this the most important move anticipated from Cairo moving ahead.
“We were not able to accept the previous, fabricated narratives, and it has been impossible for the government to act without any real progress to show the Italian public, and to Regeni’s family who are persevering in demanding the truth behind their son’s death,” the official adds.
In March 2016, Egypt’s Interior Ministry claimed that police forces in New Cairo had captured and killed five members of a criminal gang it alleged was responsible for the torture and murder of the PhD candidate. The ministry then issued a detailed statement linking these five men to Regeni’s murder and posted a photo of items in their possession, said to belong to Regeni. But this account was largely dismissed by Regeni’s family, Italian investigators and even by Egyptian prosecutors, who denied that there was a link between the gang and Regeni’s death, citing a number of inconsistencies, including proof that some of the alleged gang members were not close to the location from which Regeni disappeared. Moreover, a report published by Italian newspaper La Repubblica in April 2016, claimed that the police officer who shot the alleged members of the gangs was involved in searching Regeni’s apartment before his disappearance.
Immediately after Rome announced its ambassador would return to Egypt, Regeni’s family revealed that they had acquired the names of three Egyptian officials said to be involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of their son.
According to the Italian official, there are prospects for economic cooperation between Italy and Egypt, including the expansion of natural gas extraction. The two countries also share regional interests in Libya and Ethiopia.
For these to come to fruition, the official concludes, “All that is needed from the Egyptian side is a serious move [in the case] that can be supported by Italy’s desire to develop bilateral relations. Cairo should remember that Rome was one of the first capitals to support the change in Egypt’s political scene in 2013, without hesitation.”
Translated by Waad Ahmed
See Mada Masr’s timeline charting the events throughout the year from the day Regeni disappeared in Cairo: