Skip to main content

EU demands investigation into Italian student 'assassination' in Egypt

A European legislator told Middle East Eye that the killing of Giulio Regeni has served as a 'wake-up call' to the EU about abuses in Egypt
People carry the coffin of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge student who was found dead in Egypt (AFP)

The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “the torture and assassination” of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, describing the killing as not being isolated but taking place in a “context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances”.

The resolution called for a joint and transparent investigation into Regeni’s death by both Egyptian and Italian authorities and passed with a huge majority – 588 MEPs voted for it, just 10 voted against, and 59 abstained. 

Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, who supported the resolution, told Middle East Eye that Regeni’s killing has served as a “wake-up call” to European politicians about the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt.

“It is sad that it took the torturing to death of a European student to act as a wake-up call for some that still needed one,” she said. “This case, along with the structural repression of Egyptians, including through torture, imprisonment and disappearances, should much more strongly guide EU policies towards Egypt.”

Regeni, 28, was a doctoral candidate at the UK's Cambridge University, and was in Egypt researching the development of Egyptian trade unions when he disappeared on 25 January – the same day as the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising that overthrew long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.

On 3 February, Regeni’s body was found on a road on the outskirts of Cairo bearing the hallmarks of severe beating and torture. There has been widespread speculation that Egyptian security services – known for their torture of detainees – were involved in the killing, but the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has denied this.

Amid concerns that Egyptian security services may have been involved in Regeni’s killing, Schaake said the EU will be closely monitoring Egypt's role in investigations into Regeni's death.

“We will scrutinise closely the steps of the investigation,” she said. 

The resolution is the strongest condemnation of Egypt since former army chief turned president Sisi seized power from the country’s first democratically elected leader Mohamed Morsi in a popularly backed military coup on 3 July 2013.

It not only criticises the killing of Regeni but calls on Egyptian authorities to stop the planned closure of rights group, Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and to end the harassment of advocacy organisation, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

Schaake said the resolution “sends another signal that the European Parliament is very concerned about the rule of law and human rights in Egypt”.

“We urge the Member States [of the EU] and the [European] Commission to learn from the past and to acknowledge that the reasons why so many Egyptians took to the streets and ousted Mubarak are still there.

“I believe we, the European Parliament, must continue to stand with those, mostly young, Egyptians seeking a more just, free and prosperous Egypt.”

She added that the resolution has teeth because “the European Parliament is a co-legislator for trade policies, the EU budget, and as such has the tools to back up the strong wording in this resolution”.

Restrictions on arms sales to Egypt imposed by the EU have been in place since August 2013, when hundreds of protesters against the military coup were killed by Egyptian forces clearing several sit-in demonstrations in Cairo.

However, these restrictions were not set out in a legal document and as such large exporters including France and the UK have been free to continue selling Egypt arms.

France signed a $5.6bn deal in 2015 to sell Egypt 24 Rafale fighter jets, a naval frigate and missiles, while the UK sold Egypt $70mn arms in the first quarter of 2015, which was an increase of 3,000 percent in year-on-year sales.

Prior to the European Parliament vote on Thursday a political staff member at the EU told The Intercept that France and the UK have put “strong pressure” on the EU to lift restrictions on exporting weapons to Egypt that could be used for internal repression.

Whether or not the European Parliament will uphold restrictions on arms sales to Egypt, or ramp up measures in light of Regeni’s killing, will depend on convincing conservative MEPs that the seriousness of the rights situation in Egypt requires strong action.

“Many [MEPs] mostly on the conservative side of the European Parliament favour good government to government relations even if it goes at the expense of people’s wellbeing,” Schaake said.

“I hope they (the MEPs) will not forget that there are countless Egyptian Giulio Regenis. I wish every case of enforced disappearance in Egypt had the same international attention.”

Since Sisi seized power in July 2013, tens of thousands of people have been detained by security forces, as Egyptian authorities have implemented a far-reaching crackdown against all political opponents.

Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in swift trials that have been condemned by human rights groups, and there have been numerous reports of torture being systematically used in Egyptian prisons.

Egyptian authorities had not responded to the European Parliament resolution at the time of publication.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.