The Murder of Giulio Regeni should shock Cambridge students

The harsh realities of Middle Eastern dictatorships have inserted themselves into the Cambridge community in brutal fashion

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One of our number here at Cambridge may have been murdered by the security apparatus of a Western ally. This should concern us all. 

Giulio Regeni, a PhD student at Cambridge in the Department of Politics and International Studies, was last seen alive leaving his central Cairo apartment to visit a friend on the evening of January 25th. Eyewitnesses interviewed by the New York Times say he was led away by two men believed to be Egyptian security agents.

His body was found nine days later, naked from the waist down, near a road on the outskirts of Cairo.

The results of a second autopsy, conducted by the authorities of his native Italy, led the Italian Interior Minister to declare that he had suffered ‘inhuman, animal-like violence’ before he died. The Egyptian prosecutor admitted that all of his body and face had been covered in bruises, wounds from stabbings, and cigarette burns. He had more than two dozen broken bones, including a fatal blow or twist to the neck.

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Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, the anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak

These are early days, and nothing is proven for certain, but suspicion has immediately (and reasonably) fallen on the Egyptian Security Services. Since the then General, and now President, Sisi led a coup to oust the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, Egypt has seen a severe rise in political repression while Britain and the USA have remained remarkably tongue-tied about the behaviour of Sisi’s government. Sisi himself was only a few months ago gallivanting into Downing Street as a respected statesman.

Don’t just take all this from me. Here’s what Amnesty International has to say on the subject of Egypt since the coup:

“Hundreds have been sentenced to death, including former president Morsi, or long prison terms after grossly unfair mass trials; torture and other ill-treatment remain widespread; there has been a surge in reports of enforced disappearance across the country; and impunity remains the order of the day despite a handful of cases in which the authorities have prosecuted police or other officials for committing abuses.”

I cannot comprehend the terror and pain of Giulio Regeni’s last days. His death is made more immediate than other killings at the hands of Egypt’s dictatorship simply, and understandably, by dint of the fact that he was a Cambridge academic – one of our community – in Cairo to improve his Arabic and do research on Egyptian labour relations. He wrote articles critical of the Egyptian government in an Italian paper, and, all things considered, this was certainly a risky move – but he shouldn’t have died for it.

Why are we not more angry? Why is there an internet frenzy for practically anything and everything in Cambridge but not for this? We don’t have the excuse here that it doesn’t directly affect Cambridge students; nor can we say that the Egyptian Government, while deplorable, is beyond influencing. The United States, our supposedly closest ally, gives Egypt $1.5bn in military aid every single year. Even as we embark on yet more of our seemingly endless debates over freedom of speech there is a Cambridge student who has died for his freedom of speech and while defending that of others.

In the 1980s there was a strong tradition of student opposition to the regime of General Pinochet in Chile. Pinochet was another coup leader, kept in power partly with American and British support because of the feared consequences of the alternatives to him. He too oversaw numerous ‘disappearances’ of his critics. Where is our modern-day equivalent of the activism that opposed Pinochet or undermined South African Apartheid through steadily growing waves of global opprobrium?

Nice place for a protest

Cambridge Zero Carbon – that rare breed of Cambridge protest group engaging with world affairs

4,600 academics worldwide have signed a letter of protest, but the undergraduate body has yet to emit waves of anger. Student activism, and particularly Cambridge activism, has seemed curiously narrow and self-obsessed of late. I have often sat at my computer and stared in despair at the splitting of hairs going on all across the Facebook- and Twitter-spheres.

Here, provided the suspicions are confirmed, is a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Everyone in Cambridge is always very busy, and I’m certainly not saying we should all en masse down pens and march to and hold vigils outside the Egyptian embassy (though, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea), but signing this petition to force the British government to exert some of its influence to ensure there is a proper investigation is a start. Embarrassingly, from a pool of the entire UK population (as opposed to academics alone) it has fewer signatories than the academics’ letter of protest.

A campaign against Western connivance with Sisi’s Terror is just the sort of wishy-washy lefty liberal Cantab campaign I could get behind.