The Italian government is facing calls to abandon its potential $11 billion arms deal with Egypt, which is notorious for its human rights abuses. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio noted that the deal had not yet been finalised, and that Italy should never have considered a deal with Egypt in the first instance, given the level of human rights violations in the country against its own Italian nationals.
The recent arrest, detention and torture of Cairo-based Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian researcher enrolled at an Italian university, has led to a public outcry denouncing the arms deal. Zaki was arrested at Cairo International Airport after coming to Egypt to see family. Allegations were posed against Zaki by Egyptian authorities claiming that he was arrested due to: “Managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety, as well as inciting to commit violence and ‘terrorist’ crimes.” However, these allegations have been firmly denied. His activism may be the real reason why Egyptian authorities are detaining him, and why they want to silence dissenting voices critical of the government’s policies.
Zaki’s lawyers reported that the student was beaten and subjected to electric shocks, whilst being intimidated and interrogated about his activism work, before appearing at a public prosecutor’s office in his hometown of Mansoura. Egypt has intensified its crackdown on activists over the years, as Egyptian forces killed 1,150 demonstrators between July and August 2013 in Rab’a Square, where the highest strata of Egyptian government planned to massacre those who protested, while none of the families of those who died were given justice.
Another such high-profile case, which is a testament to just some of the reported human rights abuses that the Egyptian government has carried out, is the murder of Italian researcher, Giulio Regeni. Regeni was brutally murdered in 2016, allegedly at the hands of Egypt’s security forces, after his body was found mutilated and left on a major road on the outskirts of Cairo. Regeni’s mother has denounced the government, stating that she felt “betrayed” by Italy for even considering an arms deal with Egypt.
Four years have passed, and there has still been no accountability nor justice for Regeni’s family; nor has Zaki been given freedom after being placed in detention while enduring inhumane conditions.
Italy has moved closer towards arms deals with Egypt, and for this reason, human rights abuses such as Regeni’s have not been diligently investigated by the Italian authorities. If the arms deal was to go ahead, it would be the largest arms deal in history between Italy and Egypt. This month, Foreign Minister Di Maio reassured a parliamentary inquiry into the frigate arms deal and confirmed that Italy was continuing to follow Zaki’s case.
If Italy does choose to proceed with and authorise the arms deal with Egypt, then it will be complicit in allowing Egypt to get away with its human rights abuses, and it will show a lack of commitment to fighting for the rights of those who have been killed, such as Regeni. In addition, Italy will be drawing closer ties with Egypt through this unprecedented arms deal, demonstrating its dismissal of placing human rights higher up on the agenda for political prisoners such as Zaki, who are unjustly jailed in Egypt’s unruly prisons.
In order to show a firm stance that the Egyptian government cannot get away with continuing its record of human rights abuses, Italy must listen to calls from the families of those who have lost loved ones, and from organisations’ and activists’ pleas in order to avoid a further catastrophe in the making.