Italy appoints new ambassador to Egypt ahead of Regeni trial

Italy appoints new 'left-wing' ambassador to Egypt ahead of Regeni trial
3 min read
09 August, 2021
Michele Quaroni, Italy's new ambassador to Egypt, has a long track record of promoting human rights in the Middle East and Africa.
Giulio Regeni was brutally murdered in Cairo in 2016 [Getty]

Italy appointed a new ambassador to Egypt amid ongoing tensions with Cairo over the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni and the detention of Egyptian postgraduate student Patrick Zaki, who was enrolled in an Italian university at the time of arrest in February 2020.

Michele Quaroni, formerly Italy's deputy representative to the European Union, will succeed Giampaolo Cantini, who spent four years in the position.

Diplomatic sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that the appointment was a warning to the Egyptian authorities about its appalling human rights record.

Quaroni is seen as left-leaning and has a long track record of promoting human rights in the Middle East and Africa.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio informed his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, of the nomination during a phone call last week.

Twitter users have taken to social media to demand Quaroni step up the pressure on Cairo and show that European powers - Italy in particular - can play a role in stopping human rights abuses in Egypt.

Italian postgraduate student Giulio Regeni was abducted and tortured to death in Cairo, January 2016. NGOs and human rights groups believe the Egyptian security forces are responsible for his death due to his work on trade unions in Egypt.

The Italian public has been vocal in demanding the truth on Regeni's murder and called for the immediate release of Zaki. Protests against Zaki's detention have been held in many cities, including Milan, Rome, Venice, Genoa, and Sanremo.

A piece of street art appeared near the Egyptian embassy in Rome showing Regeni comforting Zaki, with a speech bubble over the former telling Zaki, "this time everything will turn out right".

The appointment coincides with the launch of long-awaited trial in absentia of four Egyptian officers accused of involvement in the surveillance, kidnapping, torture, and murder of Regeni, set to begin in Rome on 14 October.

Regeni, a Cambridge University postgraduate student, disappeared in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found badly disfigured.

Italian and Egyptian investigators had originally tried to work together on the case but Cairo's insistence that Regeni had been robbed by a criminal gang has failed to satisfy Italian authorities.

Rome prosecutors pushed for a trial in late 2020, but their counterparts in Cairo said there was "insufficient evidence to support the accusation in court".

The 28-year-old PhD student was researching Egypt's independent trade unions, a controversial subject in a country where unofficial protest movements face brutal repression.

Italian-Egyptian relations reached a new low point in February 2020, when Zaki was arrested at Cairo International Airport and detained at the notorious Tora prison.

At the time of his arrest, Zaki was an Erasmus Mundi recipient at the Italian University of Bologna pursuing a master’s degree in Women and Gender Studies. He was also a human rights advocate with the well-known Egyptian NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).