The west turns a blind eye to Middle Eastern violence at its own peril

In failing to hold Egypt and Saudi Arabia to account over the deaths of Giulio Regeni and Jamal Khashoggi, the west is making a rod for its own back

Dr Amr Darrag
Founder and chairman of the Egyptian Institute for Studies in Istanbul

Sat 25 May 2019

Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of the murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The parents of Giulio Regeni, the Italian doctoral student murdered in Cairo three years ago, last week wrote an emotionally charged letter to Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. “As long as this barbarism remains unpunished,” they told the Egyptian president, “until all those who are guilty, regardless of their position, are brought to justice in Italy, no one in the world can stay in your country and feel safe.”

Regeni was found in a ditch in February 2016, less than 2km away from the national security agency headquarters. His body, naked from the waist down, bore clear signs of brutal torture. Regeni’s parents, who say they have yet to see any sign that the murder is being investigated, said they could only identify their son by the tip of his nose. They want those responsible extradited to Italy.

Two years later, Jamal Khashoggi was seized in the office of the Saudi consul in Istanbul. Audio evidence suggests the Saudi journalist was severely tortured, his fingers severed before he was beheaded and dismembered.

That the deaths of Regeni and Khashoggi were so brutal – and so similar – is no coincidence. Both were killed for doing their jobs. The savagery and sadism of the murders points not only to an enraged intolerance of the slightest dissent, but also to an unsettling sense that their killers knew they would not be held accountable.

Since the military coup of 2013, hundreds of people have been forcibly “disappeared”, tortured and found dead. According to the Early Warning Project, only two countries are likelier than Egypt to have a mass killing in 2019.

Egypt, meanwhile, has twice refused a request from Italian prosecutors to name those suspected of Regeni’s murder, although the family’s lawyer has disclosed information about an additional 20 officers alleged to be involved in his killing. The Italian government has failed to follow up on its initially robust response, despite the insistence of Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s foreign minister at the time, that nothing but the full truth would be accepted.

And so neither Sisi nor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have had to take responsibility. Donald Trump’s threat of “severe punishment” following Khashoggi’s killing soon mutated into an angry dismissal of the CIA’s conclusions, a defence of the US’s “great ally” and nauseating gratitude for lowering the price of oil.



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