Giulio Regeni was researching independent trade unions operating in a climate of repression. He disappeared on the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. His tortured body was discovered nine days later.

People searching for Giulio Regeni posted this image online

People searching for Giulio Regeni posted this image online

Gulio Regeni was an Italian citizen and Cambridge PhD student, researching independent trade unions in Egypt. He disappeared on 25 January – the anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising – after visiting a friend. His badly beaten body was found nine days later in a ditch on the Cairo to Alexandria Desert Road.

Regeni disappeared on the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

Regeni disappeared on the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

According to the coroner, the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the back of the head. Regeni’s body was covered with cigarette burns and stab wounds: he was tortured to death. The Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano, who saw the coroner’s report, said Regeni suffered “something inhuman, animal-like, an unacceptable violence”.

Italian authorities suspect that Egyptian security forces interrogated Regeni to learn about the contacts he made with workers and activists as part of his research and then tortured and killed him. The Egyptian government denies this.

"The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions supports the demands of the people's revolution and calls for a general strike of Egyptian workers," reads a banner in Tahrir Square. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

“The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions supports the demands of the people’s revolution and calls for a general strike of Egyptian workers,” reads a banner in Tahrir Square. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy.

Regeni was from Fiumicello in north east Italy, and wrote about Egypt’s unions for the left wing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto.

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 resulted in a democratic election which was won by the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammed Morsi became president, but quickly polarised the country by introducing authoritarian measures. He was overthrown in a military coup in 2013.

The Egyptian state, under military leader turned president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, unleashed a wave of brutal repression. Most of the oppression was directed against supporters of Morsi – such as the Rabaa massacre, in which around a thousand people were murdered – but Sisi’s regime has also targeted trade unionists, journalists and human rights activists.

As Regeni reports, in his last piece for Il Manifesto, there was an explosive rise in new, independent trade unions after the Egyptian revolution. The began to consolidate themselves into new federations, but Sisi’s oppression has splintered these efforts and driven many of them underground.

Despite this, levels of industrial action are high, and hundreds of new unions are fighting for their rights against an oppressive and corrupt system. This week has seen a strike by doctors, while the textile factories of Mahalla remain a major site of workers’ resistance.

There has been an increase in state repression as the fifth anniversary of the revolution approached. According to journalist Hossam Bahgat, state repression in Egypt is at its highest level in decades, with imprisonment, disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Despite this, Sisi is backed by powerful British politicians, including David Cameron and Tony Blair.

UPDATE

A trade union campaign has been launched by LabourStart to support the academic campaign for an independent investigation into the Regeni case and the host of other recent incidents of disappearance, torture and death in Egypt under the Sisi regime.

You can support it here.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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