Who murdered Giulio Regeni?

GIULIO-REGENI

Alexander Stille writes: When six senior Italian detectives arrived in Cairo in early February, following the discovery of the brutally battered body of 28-year-old Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, they faced long odds of solving the mystery of his disappearance and death. Egyptian officials had told reporters that Regeni had probably been hit by a car, but clear signs of torture on his body had raised an alarm in Rome.

The Egyptian authorities guaranteed “full cooperation”, but this was quickly revealed to be a hollow promise. The Italians were allowed to question witnesses – but only for a few minutes, after the Egyptian police had finished their own much longer interrogations, and with the Egyptian police still in the room. The Italians requested the video footage from the metro station where Regeni last used his mobile phone, but the Egyptians allowed several days to elapse, by which time the footage from the day of his disappearance had been taped over. They also refused to share the mobile phone records from the area around Regeni’s home, where he disappeared on 25 January, and the site where his body was found nine days later.

One of the Egyptian chief investigators in charge of the Regeni case, Major General Khaled Shalaby, who told the press that there were no signs of foul play, is a controversial figure. Convicted of kidnapping and torture over a decade ago, he escaped with a suspended sentence.

The Egyptians may well have hoped that the outside world, with no independent information, would have little choice but to accept their unsatisfying explanation for Regeni’s death. But in the digital age, getting away with murder has become more difficult. [Continue reading…]

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Why Egypt’s migrants risk their lives

Bel Trew writes: The smugglers forced the last 100 frightened migrants to board a listing ship at knifepoint. They were 12 kilometers (8 miles) off the Egyptian coast and the battered fishing boat was already packed. The smugglers snarled death threats at the appointed “captain” who refused to set sail for Italy because, with over 450 people on board, the vessel was dangerously overloaded.

One we’ll call Mohamed, because he is only 17, is an impoverished Egyptian tuk-tuk driver who waited on the bow of the crammed ship with a dozen of this friends as the fight erupted. It was 4:00 a.m. and nearly light but the new influx of passengers had sparked panic on deck.

The battered ribs of the ship began to groan as the shifting weight rocked the vessel violently to the side. Locked inside a fish refrigerator in the hold, dozens of people clawed at the walls to get out.

Mohamed and his 15-year-old friend, whom we’ll call Osman, were the first to jump into the churning water after failing to coax their best friend Karim, also 15, to join them. Karim, like many others on board the boat, could not swim.

“From the water I saw something snap on top and the boat suddenly flipped on its side. It was as if it was sucked under the waves,” Mohamed said days later from his impoverished hometown of Green Island, east of Alexandria.

“We watched people drowning each other to get air. The living were floating on the dead,” he added, his voice cracking.

Osman spotted Karim, 15, clutching onto a water bottle. “He was slipping. We tried to reach him. But I looked back and he was gone.”

The two boys, who swam for seven hours looking for land, were among the 163 people dragged out of the water by fishermen, who came to their rescue when the Egyptian coastguard failed to show up.

An estimated 300 people from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Somalia drowned that morning of Sept. 21, although only 202 bodies have so far been recovered. On Tuesday, 33 corpses, some unrecognizable after a week on the sea floor, were pulled out of the hull of the ship, which was finally brought to the surface and towed to shore.

Dozens of Egyptian children like Mohamed were onboard, part of an increasing number of minors leaving alone for Italy, because they cannot be repatriated under Italian law and so can stay to make money to send home.

Over 16,863 unaccompanied children have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Italy so far this year, nearly double the 8,354 who traveled last year, according to an email sent to me by Save The Children. Over 2,666 of those unaccompanied minors were Egyptian, more than triple the 854 who traveled in the same period last year.

Desperation is driving families to urge their young sons to take the deadly 10-day sea trip. A crumbling economy in Egypt, fueled by five years of unrest and political oppression, means few have opportunities if they stay. [Continue reading…]

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Libyan general in east rejects UN-backed government

The Associated Press reports: A powerful Libyan general whose forces recently captured several key oil facilities has rejected a U.N.-brokered government and said the country would be better served by a leader with “high-level military experience.”

In a series of written responses to questions from The Associated Press this week, Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter said his army only recognizes the authority of the Libyan parliament based in the east, which has also rejected the U.N.-backed government in the capital, Tripoli.

Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, and for the last two years has been split by rival authorities based in the far east and in Tripoli, in the west.

The two sides are deeply divided on Hifter’s future role in the country. In the east, he is seen as the kind of strong, experienced military leader who can defeat Islamic extremists and restore order to the oil-rich North African country. In the west, where powerful Islamist militias hold sway, he is seen as remnant of the Gadhafi government — which he once served — and an aspiring strongman.

Hifter said little to put such fears to rest.

He cited generals who went on to lead Western nations, as well as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in neighboring Egypt, who led the military ouster of an elected Islamist president in 2013 and has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

“Military people who were elected to lead their country achieved remarkable success,” Hifter said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump praises the ruthless authoritarian rule of Egypt’s al-Sisi

Politico reports: A day after autocratic Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had “no doubt” Donald Trump would make a strong leader, the Republican nominee returned the favor, praising Sisi as a “fantastic guy.”

Sitting down with Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs, Trump touted the “chemistry” the two politicians shared during a special meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly Monday.

“I thought it was very productive. He’s a fantastic guy,” Trump said of Sisi. “I thought it was a great meeting. We met for a long time, actually. There was a good chemistry there. You know when you have good chemistry with people. There was a good feeling between us.”

Trump also praised the foreign leader’s handling of the Egyptian coup d’etat of 2013 that removed former President Mohamed Morsi from power, a bloody transition that saw thousands of dissidents and protesters killed.

“He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it,” Trump said.

Days prior, Trump lavished Sisi with praise, expressing support for the leader’s “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.” [Continue reading…]

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Sisi is a dead man walking

David Hearst writes: “You want to be a first-class nation? Will you bear it if I make you walk on your own feet? When I wake you up at five in the morning every day? Will you bear cutting back on food, cutting back on air-conditioners? …People think I’m a soft man, Sisi is torture and suffering.”

So said the field marshal in a leaked recording of a conversation he had with a journalist shortly before he became president. Little did he know then how prescient his words would be. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule has indeed become torture and suffering for Egypt.

He has lurched from one promise to another, each one a glittering bauble dangled over a credulous and fearful nation. The first was the untold billions that Egypt would continue to get from the Gulf states who bankrolled his military coup. He boasted to his aides that their money was so plentiful it was “like rice”, a judgment that now looks dated after the collapse in the price of oil and the Yemen war. He burnt his way through up to $50bn of their cash, loans and oil guarantees.

The second was the international donors conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. More promises but nothing changed.

The third was mega infrastructure projects like the construction of a new capital city costing $45bn or the opening of the new Suez Canal. A year ago, state officials promised the $8bn project to widen the canal would triple revenue in just eight years. In fact, the number of ships has increased by 0.0033 percent, according to one count.

A fourth was the plan to cede two islands to Saudi Arabia, in hope of renewing Saudi financial support. The plan caused outrage, is stuck in parliament and the courts, which in turn has angered the Saudis. [Continue reading…]

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Trump praises autocratic Egyptian leader

Politico reports: There’s at least one Muslim country that Donald Trump has “great respect” for.

The Republican presidential nominee Monday showered Egypt’s increasingly autocratic ruler, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with kind words during a special meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Trump, who has called for a ban on immigration from countries “compromised by terrorism,” which presumably would include Egypt, promised to invite Sisi to visit the White House if he’s elected president. Trump also suggested he’d like to visit Egypt.

In a strikingly praise-filled summary of the meeting released by his campaign, the Republican was said to express to Sisi “his strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.” [Continue reading…]

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Egypt freezes assets of several human rights advocates

The New York Times reports: An Egyptian court dealt a heavy blow to the country’s human rights activists on Saturday by freezing the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three nongovernmental organizations.

The freeze is part of a criminal investigation into the funding and work of prominent activists, including Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, and advocacy groups, like the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, which document state abuses.

The human rights defenders are accused of using money acquired illegally from foreign governments to spread lies and harm national security. The charges can result in a sentence of life in prison.

“We don’t regret what we did, and we won’t be silenced,” Mr. Bahgat, who was briefly detained by the military last year and now works as a journalist, told reporters outside the courtroom. “This order was expected, although we fought it.” [Continue reading…]

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How Arab authoritarian regimes learned to defeat popular protests

Marc Lynch writes: The Arab world never seemed more unified than during the incandescent days of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Tunisia’s revolution clearly and powerfully inspired Arabs everywhere to take to the streets. Egypt’s Jan. 25 uprising, which resulted in the removal of Hosni Mubarak, taught Arab citizens and leaders alike that victory by protesters could succeed.

The subsequent wave of protests involved remarkable synergies that could not plausibly be explained without reference to transnational diffusion. Bahrainis, Yemenis and Jordanians alike attempted to replicate the seizure and long-term encampments in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and protesters across the Arab world chanted the same slogans and waved the same signs.

But what happened in the months and years after those heady days? Did similar processes of diffusion and cross-national learning shape the post-uprisings era? Did autocratic regimes learn from one another in the same way that protesters did? In June, more than a dozen scholars came together in Hamburg, Germany, for a workshop jointly organized by the Project on Middle East Political Science and the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. The workshop closely examined learning, diffusion and demonstration across autocratic regimes during the Arab counter-revolution. The papers for that workshop, available here as an open access PDF download, closely examine the ways in which Arab autocrats did — and did not — learn from one another. [Continue reading…]

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Fractured lands: How the Arab world came apart

The following New York Times Magazine feature story is more than a long-read — at 42,000 words it’s more like a short book. Scott Anderson writes: Before driving into northern Iraq, Dr. Azar Mirkhan changed from his Western clothes into the traditional dress of a Kurdish pesh merga warrior: a tightfitting short woolen jacket over his shirt, baggy pantaloons and a wide cummerbund. He also thought to bring along certain accessories. These included a combat knife, tucked neatly into the waist of his cummerbund, as well as sniper binoculars and a loaded .45 semiautomatic. Should matters turn particularly ticklish, an M-4 assault rifle lay within easy reach on the back seat, with extra clips in the foot well. The doctor shrugged. “It’s a bad neighborhood.”

Our destination that day in May 2015 was the place of Azar’s greatest sorrow, one that haunted him still. The previous year, ISIS gunmen had cut a murderous swath through northern Iraq, brushing away an Iraqi Army vastly greater in size, and then turning their attention to the Kurds. Azar had divined precisely where the ISIS killers were about to strike, knew that tens of thousands of civilians stood helpless in their path, but had been unable to get anyone to heed his warnings. In desperation, he had loaded up his car with guns and raced to the scene, only to come to a spot in the road where he saw he was just hours too late. “It was obvious,” Azar said, “so obvious. But no one wanted to listen.” On that day, we were returning to the place where the fabled Kurdish warriors of northern Iraq had been outmaneuvered and put to flight, where Dr. Azar Mirkhan had failed to avert a colossal tragedy — and where, for many more months to come, he would continue to battle ISIS.

Azar is a practicing urologist, but even without the firepower and warrior get-up, the 41-year-old would exude the aura of a hunter. He walks with a curious loping gait that produces little sound, and in conversation has a tendency to tuck his chin and stare from beneath heavy-lidded eyes, rather as if he were sighting down a gun. With his prominent nose and jet black pompadour, he bears a passing resemblance to a young Johnny Cash.

The weaponry also complemented the doctor’s personal philosophy, as expressed in a scene from one of his favorite movies, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” when a bathing Eli Wallach is caught off guard by a man seeking to kill him. Rather than immediately shoot Wallach, the would-be assassin goes into a triumphant soliloquy, allowing Wallach to kill him first.

“When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” Azar quoted from the movie. “That is us Kurds now. This is not the time to talk, but to shoot.”

Azar is one of six people whose lives are chronicled in these pages. The six are from different regions, different cities, different tribes, different families, but they share, along with millions of other people in and from the Middle East, an experience of profound unraveling. Their lives have been forever altered by upheavals that began in 2003 with the American invasion of Iraq, and then accelerated with the series of revolutions and insurrections that have collectively become known in the West as the Arab Spring. They continue today with the depredations of ISIS, with terrorist attacks and with failing states.

For each of these six people, the upheavals were crystallized by a specific, singular event. For Azar Mirkhan, it came on the road to Sinjar, when he saw that his worst fears had come true. For Laila Soueif in Egypt, it came when a young man separated from a sprinting mass of protesters to embrace her, and she thought she knew the revolution would succeed. For Majdi el-Mangoush in Libya, it came as he walked across a deadly no-man’s-land and, overwhelmed by a sudden euphoria, felt free for the first time in his life. For Khulood al-Zaidi in Iraq, it came when, with just a few menacing words from a former friend, she finally understood that everything she had worked for was gone. For Majd Ibrahim in Syria, it came when, watching an interrogator search his cellphone for the identity of his “controller,” he knew his own execution was drawing nearer by the moment. For Wakaz Hassan in Iraq, a young man with no apparent interest in politics or religion, it came on the day ISIS gunmen showed up in his village and offered him a choice.

As disparate as those moments were, for each of these six people they represented a crossing over, passage to a place from which there will never be a return. Such changes, of course — multiplied by millions of lives — are also transforming their homelands, the greater Middle East and, by inevitable extension, the entire world.

History never flows in a predictable way. It is always a result of seemingly random currents and incidents, the significance of which can be determined — or, more often, disputed — only in hindsight. But even accounting for history’s capricious nature, the event credited with setting off the Arab Spring could hardly have been more improbable: the suicide by immolation of a poor Tunisian fruit-and-vegetable seller in protest over government harassment. By the time Mohamed Bouazizi succumbed to his injuries on Jan. 4, 2011, the protesters who initially took to Tunisia’s streets calling for economic reform were demanding the resignation of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the nation’s strongman president for 23 years. In subsequent days, those demonstrations grew in size and intensity — and then they jumped Tunisia’s border. By the end of January, anti-government protests had erupted in Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Jordan. That was only the beginning. By November, just 10 months after Bouazizi’s death, four longstanding Middle Eastern dictatorships had been toppled, a half-dozen other suddenly embattled governments had undergone shake-ups or had promised reforms, and anti-government demonstrations — some peaceful, others violent — had spread in an arc across the Arab world from Mauritania to Bahrain.

As a writer with long experience in the Middle East, I initially welcomed the convulsions of the Arab Spring — indeed, I believed they were long overdue. In the early 1970s, I traveled through the region as a young boy with my father, a journey that sparked both my fascination with Islam and my love of the desert. The Middle East was also the site of my first foray into journalism when, in the summer of 1983, I hopped on a plane to the embattled city Beirut in hopes of finding work as a stringer. Over the subsequent years, I embedded with a platoon of Israeli commandos conducting raids in the West Bank; dined with Janjaweed raiders in Darfur; interviewed the families of suicide bombers. Ultimately, I took a five-year hiatus from magazine journalism to write a book on the historical origins of the modern Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s Brotherhood, Sisi both put out feelers for reconciliation

Abdelrahman Youssef writes: The word “reconciliation” has been dominating the Egyptian political scene for almost two weeks. Talk has revolved around the future of the relationship between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is facing the worst crackdown since its establishment.

Political discussions in Egypt are not what brought about this prevalent idea; rather, it emerged due to a number of coalesced factors, notably the statement of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Magdy al-Agaty, who said in an interview, “We can reconcile with a member of the Brotherhood as long as his hands are not stained with blood. [Brotherhood members] are Egyptians in the first place. Why don’t we make peace with them and integrate them into the fabric of the Egyptian people if they did not commit any crime?”

However, it was not long before this controversial issue came to the surface again when Mohamed Fayek, head of the National Council for Human Rights, said July 3, “There will be a presidential pardon soon for all the detained young people who were not involved in armed activities.” [Continue reading…]

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Hundreds ‘disappeared’ by security forces in Egypt, says Amnesty

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of Egyptians have been forcibly disappeared and tortured in a “sinister” campaign to wipe out peaceful dissent in the most populous country in the Arab world, Amnesty International says in a new report.

Children as young as 14 as well as students, political activists and protesters have vanished without trace after security forces raided their homes. Many have been held for months at a time and kept blindfolded and handcuffed. At least 34,000 people are behind bars, the government admits.

Most of those who have “disappeared” are supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president who was deposed in July 2013 and eventually replaced by president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.

Amnesty’s report also mentions the case of the Italian Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge graduate student who was found dead, with his body bearing signs of torture, in Cairo in February.

“The terrible injuries sustained by Giulio Regeni are similar to those suffered by numerous people interrogated by the Egyptian security forces – his case is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Amnesty’s Felix Jakens. [Continue reading…]

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Is Egypt becoming a republic of fear?

 

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