Tyranny in the Middle East, and the false consciousness of the West

The Arab Spring in Egypt ultimately gave birth to al-Sissi’s military dictatorship, which dissidents have argued is more repressive than Mubarak ever was.

“All accusations suggesting the involvement of the Egyptian police must be held false” ; “Egypt will be committed to a totally impartial investigation”.. Italian diplomats and the Interior Ministry gave token responses to the recent torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD student researching Egyptian labour unions. Both the Italian and the British press (in terms of coverage) have failed to address the key issue: the problem of choosing who to deal with in the Middle East, following the “Lesser evil” dogma. As Amnesty International has reported, on average three people a day disappear in Egypt, and the scale of political repression under Al Sissi is the worst Egypt has faced in decades. Just a day before Giulio Regeni’s disappearance, the Guardian ran a piece reporting on violence. As Bahghat, an independent journalist, told the guardian after a period of detention by the Military Intelligence, the Egyptian regime under Sissi has imprisoned more people than anyone (excluding China) on Earth. In the meantime, the Ambassador to Italy claimed accusation of torture toward the Security apparatus were unfounded. “We are not so naïve to detain an Italian citizen and murder him the same day as a minister from the country would visit us”.

Italy was the first country to give diplomatic clout to Al Sissi after July 2013. Moreover, the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI, the national petroleum company) is currently cooperating with the Egyptians on a vast gas field discovered in Egyptian waters. Meanwhile, US foreign aid to Egypt is the second highest given in the Middle East, after Israel. This is why, back in 2011, most Western leaders were unable to quickly respond to the Arab spring: cronies, as corrupt as they were, protected Western interests in the land. What everyone forgets is that the beleaguered Islamists that seized power afterwards, by and large, were freed from Egyptian and Syrian jails after the protests started. This is how most of them began a new political career, i.e. by infiltrating stronger movements. Observing the rise of the Islamists, most in the West could then claim they had sided with the lesser of two evils. That’s why when Charles Krauthammer, the American conservative commentator, wrote about Sissi in the Washington Post, he expressed words of praise as a pragmatic dictator facing Islamo-Fascism, he did not sound any different from the Italian PM Matteo Renzi, calling Sissi a “Great statesman” last July at Al Jazeera. This is also why the European Union, outside a few visits by Catherine Ashton and current foreign secretary Federica Mogherini, did not put too much diplomatic pressure over Morsi’s death-sentence. Nor did she, like her predecessor, complain about Hosni Mubarak’s release.

The west, when violence erupted again in the end of 2013, did not give more than token responses. Partly, this was because Al Sissi soon threatened to turn towards Moscow asking for foreign aid. Nowadays, the unrest Egypt faces in the Sinai because of ISIL affiliates in the area is, once more, a justification for strengthening security-cooperation and to barely blink an eye at a staggering average of 3 disappearances a day, as reported by Amnesty International, in the country. Such silence in the international press, and the lack of organized unrest in the country, is partly due to the support the military government managed to garner in its first three years. This support is in turn partly due to an impressive economic recovery, with a GDP growth of over 5% between 2014 and 2015.

While not denying the European Union and the United States face a burdensome situation in the Middle East, it would be worth asking ourselves whether we failed the region in terms of human rights. This is all the same when oppression hits local populations as well as foreign journalists. Indeed, Giulio Regeni is not the first case of independent journalist facing an atrocious destiny. Until last year, three al Jazeera journalists (2 British citizens and one Australian national) were detained for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in their coverage. These kinds of cases do not sound that different from our failures towards Saudi Citizens, oppressed on a daily basis by an old-fashioned tyrannical monarchy. And also, our interests trumping our commitment on human rights hold us back to Saudi intervention in Yemen, while fomenting hysteria against Islam in the west by broadcasting ISIL media.

Therefore, it is not surprising to see both British and Italian media outlets are asking the wrong questions over Regeni’s death. The Italian media is not putting it in context with the oppression of Egyptian people, but has rather preferred to focus on irrelevant topics such as the brain drain of Italian students towards British Universities; a low was hit by right-wing newspaper Il Giornale, which has polled the readership on whether the left-leaning Manifesto should have published Regeni’s latest article or not. This seems tantamount to asking whether a Journalist should do his work or shut up, not surprising from Silvio Berlusconi’s own newspaper. Others have been blaming the young PhD Freelance journalist for “siding with the opposition of Al Sissi, made of Terrorists from the Muslim Brotherhood”. At least, this is what I could read from the post of Italian Neoconservative Academic and Journalist Valentino Baldacci. In Britain, while the Guardian has reported on the issue being raised by US envoyees in Egypt, an article appeared on the petition signed by over 4500 academics requesting an international investigation over the case. However, the five minutes attention the entire case got from BBC Radio 4 were dedicated to asking whether Cambridge should do more to provide security for PHD students or eventually preventing them from leaving for countries under risk. In a few words, the press’s general message seems to be: why don’t you freelance journalists and student just report on something nicer?

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