Italy’s FM meets with Egyptian officials on migration, Libya

January 22, 2023 GMT
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Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani greets reporters as he leaves a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, at the foreign ministry headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
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Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani greets reporters as he leaves a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, at the foreign ministry headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — Italy’s chief diplomat held talks Sunday with Egyptian and Arab League officials in Cairo that focused on regional security and the conflict in neighboring Libya, as well as sensitive bilateral issues.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said he raised with Egypt’s president the case of Giulio Regeni, an Italian graduate student who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Cairo in 2016, and that of Patrick George Zaki, an Egyptian activist studying in Bologna who had been detained for nearly two years.

“I asked for and received assurances for strong cooperation on the Regeni and Zaki cases,” Tajani wrote on Twitter. Later in the day, he told a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry that Cairo “is ready to remove roadblocks” to resolve both cases. He did not offer further details.

Tajani said his meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi also covered energy security and economic cooperation in the Mediterranean, but focused “above all” on political instability in Libya and the efforts to stop “irregular immigration” from that country.

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The Italian foreign minister also met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.

The Regeni case roiled Cairo’s relations with Rome, with Regeni’s family and Italian authorities accusing Egyptian security forces of torturing and killing him. Egypt’s security services have denied any involvement in Regeni’s abduction or death.

Regeni, 28, was a Cambridge University doctoral student researching labor movements in Egypt when he was abducted on Jan. 25, 2016. His body was found along a roadside several days later bearing marks of extensive torture, of the kind that activists and rights groups say is widespread within Egyptian detention facilities.

Zaki, meanwhile, was released in December 2021 pending his trial on charges of spreading false news about Egypt, both domestically and abroad and was unable to travel since his release.

Zaki’s detention and trial became front page news in Italy and sparked a wave of student protests there. For many Italians, his detention was reminiscent of Regeni’s death.

In Italy, opposition political figures reacted scathingly to Tajani’s contention that Egypt had given reassurances about the Regeni and Zaki cases.

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“Tajani isn’t succeeding in telling the truth. Italy is not satisfied with the collaboration with Egypt,” tweeted Lia Quartapelle, a lawmaker who deals with foreign affairs for the Democratic Party. “The Regeni trial is blocked. Zaki remains in Egypt.”

The Italian trial in absentia of top Egyptian security officials stalled when Rome was thwarted in officially notifying the defendants in Egypt that they had been ordered to stand trial in Regeni’s kidnapping and slaying.

Quartapelle, who had served on a special parliamentary commission in the previous legislature investigating Regeni’s case, has said in the past that Egypt can’t be trusted until full light is shed on the young man’s slaying.

Tajani said his trip to Egypt and before that Tunisia, and the visit of Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni to Algeria were part of Italy’s efforts to boost its energy ties in the region and most importantly to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

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“One must do more because for us the energy theme is one of extraordinary importance ... energy costs are too high to stay competitive, even within the European Union,” he said.

Egypt, which hosts more than 6 million migrants, has touted for years its efforts to prevent migrant boats departing from its shores. But in 2022 Egyptian migrants were among the top nationalities arriving to European shores mainly by traveling first through neighboring Libya before taking perilous sea voyages.

“The solution to the Libya problem is part of the solution to the illegal immigration problem,” he said, adding that Italy could receive “more legal migrants” including from Egypt, if illegal crossings were brought under control.

Libya has become a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking to travel to Europe, with Italy receiving tens of thousands every year. Rome has struck deals with the authorities in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in recent years to try to prevent the flow of migrants.

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Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The country is now split between two rival administrations claiming legitimacy. Egypt supports forces based in Libya’s east while Italy has backed the administration based in Tripoli.

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Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio contributed to this report from Rome.