First, as the Arab uprisings have demonstrated, there is no real long-term stability, let alone security, without social justice, the recognition of certain fundamental rights and some sense of democracy. Second, the vaunted “national interests” purportedly pursued by these policies are often neither.
It seems obvious that in the case of military cooperation with Egypt, national interests are equated with the interests of the defense industry and government elites on both sides of the Mediterranean. These hardly represent the interests of the nations concerned; in fact, nations often end up being the victims of such policies.
Third, Europe’s credibility gap is widening in the MENA region. This is largely because, as an Egyptian human rights lawyer recently put it, European governments “behave like enemies of democracy”, rather than like democratic states willing to help. other countries to make the transition to democracy.
The reputational damage abroad is considerable, but the risk that, in a boomerang effect, democratic standards will also begin to erode at home – a process which, in fact, is already underway.
There is an old adage: “The truth has many enemies, the lie has many friends.” The truth about what happened to Giulio Regeni is an extremely inconvenient truth. This is embarrassing for the Egyptian government. But it’s also embarrassing for European governments — especially the Italian state, whose strategy to hold Egypt responsible for Regeni’s murder has so far failed miserably.
In 1919, Antonio Gramsci wrote that “to tell the truth, to arrive together at the truth, is a revolutionary act”. Telling the truth about the murder of Giulio Regeni means telling the truth about Egypt, but it also means telling the truth about us Europeans, our own governments, their actions and their responsibilities. This is why what happened to Giulio Regeni is so important politically, and why telling the truth about this crime would indeed be a political and revolutionary act.
*This is an edited version of the Giulio Regeni Memorial Lecture, which was delivered by the author on January 25, 2022 at the University of Cambridge.