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Looking for a different Egypt

The Egyptian government makes business with Italy, while discussing the Regeni case

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Pier Antonio Panzeri

While the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund will meet later this month to approve a $5.2 billion loan to Egypt and announce austerity measures for the Egyptians, Al Sisi's regime has succeeded in buying two Fremm frigates from Fincantieri for an estimated value of around €1.2 billion. The two frigates were initially built for the Italian navy, which will now have to wait longer, as the Italian government seems to have agreed to the sale to Egypt.

According to press reports a few days ago, the final agreement was reached 48 hours after a phone call between the Italian Prime Minister and the Egyptian leader Al Sisi. Ironically, this phone call was formally "sold" as an opportunity to talk about the Libyan affair and the Regeni case.

Thinking badly is a sin, but often one guesses, Giulio Andreotti said. Interestingly, the approval of the sale came at the same time as the IMF's agreement to an emergency loan of $5.2 billion a few weeks after the IMF's Executive Board granted another emergency loan of $2.77 billion to Egypt. From 2016 to 2019, Egypt had already received $12 billion from the IMF as an incentive for urgent structural reforms. But the Egyptian commitment seems to have gone in completely different directions.

Many opponents and commentators have questioned the impact of these mega loans on the Egyptian population: the poverty rate has increased by 17%, 60% of the population is considered poor or vulnerable by the World Bank, the health and education system is collapsing and foreign debt has tripled. Although there is no public information available to understand how IMF funds have been used since 2016 (see the petition launched to ask the IMF to make any future loan to Egypt conditional on transparency, accountability and human rights), huge financial resources have been spent on projects in new cities reserved for the elite, in sumptuous presidential palaces and of course in the arms trade.

Egypt is the third largest arms importer in the world. In this context, the sale of the two frigates and other war material is not only a mockery, but describes the Italian political paradox well. On the one hand there is a total absence of political sensitivity: for some time now the truth has been demanded after the murder of Giulio Regeni, a truth that has never arrived. Much of the evidence and testimonies collected indicate that Giulio Regeni was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the Egyptian security forces, but by the Egyptian authorities reluctance to cooperate with the Italian justice system has prevailed. The case of the student of the University of Bologna, Patrick Zaky, detained in Egypt since last February, also bears witness to this.

On the other hand, a total disorder of Italian foreign policy emerges: in the Mediterranean chessboard, and particularly around the Libyan question, Egypt and Italy do not have the same positions. Al Sisi continues to feed Haftar and Italy should be with the Al Serraj government, the only one recognized by the United Nations.

Now, that one should work for peace in Libya, returning to the "game" quickly is undoubtedly urgent, but that while waiting for all this to happen, Italy sells weapons to a country on the other side of the Libyan table, seems objectively stupid behavior.

That's why the criticism of the Italian government's actions was right and proper and the embarrassment of many who see human rights bent on the altar of a foolish political realism was equally clear.

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