Apr 3, 2016 5:22 PM

Egypt editor warns of break in ties with Italy over student

The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) The editor of Egypt's top state newspaper called on authorities on Sunday to seriously deal with the case of an Italian student tortured and killed in Cairo, saying officials who don't realize the gravity of the case are risking a break in Egyptian-Italian relations.

In a front-page column, Al-Ahram's Editor-in-Chief Mohammed Abdel-Hadi Allam subtly suggested that Guilio Regeni's killing might have the same impact in Egypt as the 2010 beating to death by police of an Egyptian youth in the coastal city of Alexandria. The brutal death of Khaled Said helped ignite a popular 18-day uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and toppled the 29-year regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

"The Khaled Said case, despite its circumstances, did not go away like some thought at the time," he warned. "The naive stories about Regeni's death have hurt Egypt at home and abroad and offered some a justification to judge what is going on in the country now to be no different from what went on before the Jan. 25 revolution."

Regeni's death has roiled Egyptian-Italian relations. Last month Egyptian authorities implied that Regeni had been killed by a criminal gang specializing in kidnapping foreigners. Authorities said all members of the gang had been killed in a shootout and that Regeni's passport and several personal items had been found in the gang leader's home. The announcement was immediately rejected by Italian media and by Regeni's family, who have publicly stated a belief that Regeni was killed by Egyptian security forces.

Premier Matteo Renzi has insisted Italy will settle for nothing less than the truth.

Allam, in his column, charged that Egypt was embarrassed and placed in a "very grave situation" by officials who didn't understand the "value of truth" and the priority given to human rights in Europe.

A "moment of truth" between Egypt and Italy over what happened to Regeni may be fast approaching, he said, adding that "futile dealings" and "gross exaggerations" may not be useful.

It is unusual for an editor in chief of a state-owned newspaper, particularly the traditionally cautious Al-Ahram, to be so outspoken on a sensitive issue, something that speaks to the enormity of the crisis in Egypt's relations with Italy its biggest European Union trade partner and a key market for its now-battered tourism sector. Allam's counsel that the truth must be brought to light seemed to support the contention that the official criminal gang explanation is not the true story.

"The lack of understanding by some officials of the value of truth, to say nothing of the priority given to human rights in European societies, places the Egyptian state in an embarrassing and extremely grave predicament," he wrote. "Before the moment of truth is upon us, we appeal to the state to handle the case with the utmost seriousness and bring the culprits to justice."

He added: "Those who don't appreciate the danger posed to Egyptian-Italian relations by the incident and the edginess in Rome are pushing toward a break in diplomatic relations with Italy."

Egyptian authorities insist they are cooperating fully with Italy and a team of Egyptian prosecutors is headed to Rome later this week to review the case with their Italian counterparts.

Significantly, a private Italian tourism group promoting "responsible tourism" announced over the weekend the suspension of all activities in Egypt, including organizing travel packages, "until the tragic event of Regeni's murder is clarified."

The Italian Responsible Tourism Association (AITR) said "a trip and a vacation are not possible in the context of pain and indignation." AITR said its tour operators had agreed with the move and that members, which number just over 100, had already suspended all their activities regarding Egypt.

Regini disappeared on Jan. 25., the fifth anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. His brutally tortured body was found nine days later by the side of a road in a Cairo suburb.

Egyptian officials and pro-government media had suggested several causes for Regini's death, including a road accident and a crime of passion, before producing the criminal kidnapping theory.


Associated Press writer Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy contributed to this report.


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