Dear Mr President,
I am writing this open letter to you about the outrageous murder of Giulio Regeni, a fellow-national of mine. As the world has come to know, Giulio happened to attract the attention of merciless thugs, who kidnapped and tortured him to death. I didn’t know the guy and I am not acquainted with the content of his research, so I am relying on what the press, both domestic and international, has been disclosing over the last months, as I puzzle over the motive for his murder.
As an Italian citizen, I was more than deeply distressed when the brutal details of his death were let out, and my mind immediately went back to schoolbook memories of some of the darkest pages of last century’s European history. In my schooldays I learned how people were abducted, tortured and finally disposed of under the rule of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Salazar in Portugal…you name it. Then I told myself that Egypt is not the Forties-Italy and that you are not Mussolini, but the elected head of a big country which is struggling to achieve democracy. I could have picked examples of brutality from more recent times ouside Europe, but being European, I constantly remind myself that our constitutional systems were born out of long struggles and at the cost of millions of lives. In Italy, we went through a long season of terror in the Seventies, which shook the thirty or so year-old democracy. But the rule of law finally won. As you have lately stated: “democracy is not built overnight” and, I may add, should never be taken for granted.
At present we Europeans are perhaps in no position to lecture other countries on democracy, given the poor show we are staging against war-refugees, but I want to believe that the tenets of our constitutional states are still strong, and under the rule of law every single human life matters. And Giulio’s life mattered a lot to his family and friends and matters to me now, as investigations into the murder proceed and we all hope that those brutes who killed him are put behind bars after a fair trial, not a quick and uncircumstantial one, because in a constitutional system even the cruellest murderers have a right to be judged fairly.
As our Prime Minister said, we are interested in nothing but the truth, no matter how “embarassing”, and most certainly we are not interested in seeing some poor scapegoat brought to court to appease the people’s outrage.This would no more do justice to Giulio’s memory than the clumsy attempts at settling the case as a “car-accident” or a “mugging” we read about in the early days, despite the clear signs of torture that Giulio’s body bore. Those sad cover-ups equalled killing Giulio for the second time around. Now I don’t know how inquiries will unfold, but I hope in the name of justice and of the long-lasting friendship between Egypt and Italy that Giulio’s soul will be finally laid to rest, be it in a month or a year.
Despite the current tension between the two countries and those people in and outside Egypt who are pointing fingers at the cracks in the system, I still believe that the new course you have inaugurated will finally lead to an “inclusive” democratic set-up that will shake off once and for all the much-used label of dictatorship. I want to believe you are not a dictator and that the ousting of the former government was a revolution and not a coup, although some say I am deluded and will be proved wrong. I think our Prime Minister did well to congratulate you on your election, though this is causing him fierce attacks by some. I also believe that dropping Giulio’s body in broad daylight, on the very same day when an Italian delegation of businessmen was visiting Egypt, points to some vicious attempt to derail the relationship between our countries, and possibly to undermine your public figure.
But let me say this: a strong constitutional system is not afraid of looking inside itself and of addressing sensitive issues within its inner circles, especially when it comes to human rights. If Giulio’s death and the death of some Egyptian citizens who went missing and whose bodies are yet to be found are even loosely linked to some rotten apples in the barrel, I tell you please, let them not spoil the whole bunch. Let me believe that people, Egyptians as well as foreigners, are as safe and protected by the police and the army in Egypt, whose people are warm and welcoming, as they are in my small Italian hometown.
You have a big challenge ahead of you, don’t let us down.