Can Europe Make It?

An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn from an Italian

Please Mr Corbyn, could you highlight Giulio Regeni's case next Wednesday at PMQs? Could you ask David Cameron to throw the British government's diplomatic weight behind the Italian investigators?

Alessio Colonnelli
25 April 2016
Striscione_Verità_per_Giulio_Regeni_esposto_da_Comune_di_Torino.jpg

"The Truth about Giulio Regeni" on the city hall inTurin, Italy. Wikicommons/ Comune di Torino. Some rights reserved.Dear Mr Corbyn,

28-year-old Giulio Regeni was a UK resident. Not just that; he was a citizen of the world. Like several hundreds before him, Regeni died in atrocious circumstances at the end of January. No-one knows who expertly tortured him for various days. Egyptians authorities may well have a clue, but have let Italian investigators down by coming up with untruthful indications.

Three months have passed and by now it's clear that Cairo is protecting the perpetrators. The EU parliament has discussed Regeni's case. Yet, nothing's happened. The Italian government is doing its best: it even called back its ambassador.

Italy and Egypt have close business ties – how much can you rock the boat without damaging jobs and even whole regional economies? How many families depend on tourism, directly and indirectly? Too many to even think boycotting travelling to the pyramids, the Red Sea and other Egyptian prime destinations. That's not the way. And yet Rome is understandably getting more irritated by the day: Cairo's attitude has proven brazen and shunting. It won't tell the truth.

France has just sold 1 billion dollars worth of military equipment to Egypt. Prime Minister François Hollande flew there to sign the eye-watering deals. Other European nations are counting on Field Marshall Al-Sisi's regime and Turkey to keep ISIS in check. Egypt's help with Libya is crucial. The scenario is complex. What else can be done to do posthumous justice to the Cambridge PhD student? Not an easy one.

I propose this to you, Mr Corbyn: could you highlight Regeni's case next Wednesday at PMQs? Could you ask David Cameron to throw the British government's diplomatic weight behind the Italian investigators?

The whole of Italy has felt indignant about this. Regeni's family has spoken in public and shown such admirable composure one cannot feel but a grip at the heart. At times like these friendly nations have an opportunity to strengthen their alliance. Brexit is looming: reaching out to a close country, like Italy has been to Britain, for centuries, would also send out a non-economic message about the relevance of European ties.

Last, but not least, there's another aspect about Regeni that should matter to you, Mr Corbyn (and much less to Cameron and the Tory party as a whole): the young intellectual was carrying out invaluable research work about the resurgent trade unions in Egypt.

He had managed to publish a cluster of articles in the Italian national daily Il Manifesto, an ally paper of the Morning Star, which you have written for several times. Regeni's life was cut short – for what? What did he do that was so bad he deserved the most hellish death one can possibly imagine? (In fact, I don't really understand what it must have been like. Torture: just pronouncing it sends a chilling shiver down your spine.)

Regeni upheld the values of social democracy. Military regimes are known for their dislike of equitable societies. In Feast of the Goat (2001), the Peruvian Nobel writer Mario Vargas Llosa described a Latin American military regime. The misery it left behind brings to mind what Egyptian society is possibly going through now.

Regeni could have been a desaparecido: his body was eventually found only because his assassins thought of casually dumping it in a corner at a spaghetti junction outside the capital: as if he were the victim of ordinary criminality, thrown out of a car at speed. 

Of the many other dissenting Egyptians who also died a miserable death, nobody will ever know anything. Vargas Llosa explains such a scenario clearly; as he also describes how terror is propped up by the vivid mechanics of torture reverberating in the collective imagination.

In Italy we still remember very well what fascism similarly did to our country. Mussolini left a bad smell and we unwittingly carry it around with us everywhere we go in the world. Yes, Italians are still remembered as those who fought alongside the Nazis. Our amazing partisans seldom figure in foreign press and literature, unlike their French counterparts.

Regeni was an exceptional mind; and a committed leftist. 

Jeremy, tug Downing Street by the sleeve. If it takes no notice, shout out. It's time to show comradery. Per favore.

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