In January 2016, the body of 28-year old Italian academic Giulio Regeni was found in Cairo. The autopsy showed that he had been tortured for days. To this day, the crime has not been fully explained and the perpetrators have not been caught, although the evidence is damning. Mr. Regeni disappeared on the 5th anniversary of the 2011 uprising when there was a robust security presence in downtown Cairo.
Egyptian human rights activists say that the torture methods used bore the signs of those of the security forces’ and the police attempted to cover the circumstances of the disappearance. The assumption is that Mr. Regeni was a victim of rising police brutality in the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly referred to the regular use of torture in Egyptian police custody and Mr. Regeni’s case is a bitter reminder that it is barely possible to conduct independent research in Egypt these days. The problem is not only the individual breaches of the human rights but also with the way the Egyptian authorities deal with them.
Instead of solving the cases and making the perpetrators accountable for them, the regime largely denies the incidents and explains them with absurd conspiracy theories. In doing this, Cairo ignites the already widespread paranoia within the population, thereby detracting from the regime’s failures. But first and foremost, it is sending an unwavering signal: even if police brutality is not conducted under an official order, in today’s Egypt, no one can and should feel safe.
Conducting academic research in Egypt has become increasingly difficult since the 2013 military coup d’état, which had a negative impact on Egyptian academics in the first place. Academics have since then been exposed to travel and publication restrictions and financing possibilities for independent research have also become more restrictive. International academics have also been forced to reconsider their activities in the country. While academic research has never been easy in the country, since the murder of Mr. Regeni many academics fear even to enter Egypt.
The fate of academics is also shared by journalists, who are often banned from publishing reliable information. Most state and private media back up the regime by disseminating its propaganda. The few remaining critical media outlets are being silenced and their reporters thrown in jail for the alleged spread of misinformation. The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces Egypt as one of the “biggest jailers” of journalists worldwide. On the current World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, this North African country is infamously ranked 159th out of 180.
The European Union was the only entity that issued a condemning statement to the government of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi for its negligence to investigate the death of the PhD student. The statement also criticized EU member states that continue to strive for a normalization of relations with Egypt, despite reports of serious human rights violations.
‘The Regeni Murder: Egypt’s Repression of Academics and Journalists’ – Commentary by Stephan Roll and Lars Brozus – Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP).
(The commentary can be downloaded here)