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Egypt-Italy parliamentary stand-off
The decision by the Italian parliament to suspend military supplies to Egypt elicits mixed reactions from MPs, writes Gamal Essam El-Din
The Italian parliament’s 7 July decision to halt the supply of military spare parts to Egypt came in response to what it says is Egypt’s failure to cooperate in the investigation into the brutal murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo earlier this year.
While some Egyptian MPs claim the measure reflects a hostile attitude towards Egypt others warn that it shouldn’t be used to push Egypt into a political confrontation with Rome.
Immediately following the Italian decision Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said he had asked three parliamentary committees to hold an urgent meeting to review Egyptian-Italian relations.
In his 7 July statement Abdel-Aal expressed dissatisfaction with the Italian parliament’s move. “The vote in favour of endorsing the Italian government’s decision to halt the supply of some military spare parts to Egypt is an escalatory step that could negatively affect the future of Egyptian-Italian relations,” he said.
“It is deplorable that this move on the part of the Italian parliament comes at a time when Egypt is leading a fierce war against terrorist organisations. We were also surprised that the vote took place after the judicial authorities in both Egypt and Italy were intensifying their cooperation in a bid to unravel the mystery of Regeni’s death.”
Abdel-Aal stressed that contacts between both countries’ parliaments should continue despite frictions. “We need to get out of this crisis with our long-term relations intact,” said Abdel-Aal.
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told reporters that the Foreign Affairs, National Security and Defence and Human rights Committees will hold an urgent meeting next week to consider a response to the Italian parliament’s “hostile” attitude towards Egypt.
“This meeting has been requested not only by Abdel-Aal but by many MPs who believe there should be a complete overhaul of economic and other kinds of cooperation between the two countries, not least in the area of combating terrorism,” said Al-Sadat.
Al-Sadat warned the Italian parliament’s decision will negatively affect cooperation over illegal immigration in the Mediterranean and with attempts to contain the fallout from civil conflict in Libya.
Mohamed Al-Orabi, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a former foreign minister, left for Rome on Saturday to meet with the speakers of the Italian House of Representatives and the Senate. He will also meet with the chairman of the Italian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “I will tell him the Italian parliament’s decision will do a lot of harm to relations between Cairo and Rome, something that is damaging not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East,” said Al-Orabi.
On Monday in Rome Al-Orabi attended a one-day conference convened by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean to discuss terrorism and cooperation among Mediterranean parliaments.
MPs told reporters they have asked Abdel-Aal to allow a debate on Egyptian-Italian relations in a plenary session next week. Yousri Al-Moghazi, an independent MP, insisted an open debate was necessary to discuss “the Italian parliament’s arrogant and hasty decision”.
“It should not be confined to reviewing economic and political relations with Italy but must include an examination into the file of Egyptian detainees in Italian prisons and the results of investigation into the killing of Egyptians in Italy,” said Al-Moghazi.
Ahmed Mustafa, deputy chairman of the Ethics Committee, accused Rome of using the “criminal” Regeni case “as a tool of political exhortation”.
Free Egyptians Party MP Tarek Radwan, deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said an objective review of Egyptian-Italian relations is now required.
“We should work on containing current tensions rather than taking retaliatory measures,” said Radwan. “The Italian parliament’s decision places Egyptian-Italian relations on edge, something that can only serve terrorist organisations targeting the security of the Mediterranean countries.”
Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told reporters on Sunday that next week’s three committee meeting will not adopt a confrontational agenda.
“We are very keen that Egyptian-Italian relations remain strong. Italy was, after all, the first European country to support Egypt’s 30 June Revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Amer.
“We must use all possible tools to contain tension and stop any further deterioration in relations between the two countries.”
Free Egyptians Party MP Nadia Henry accuses the Egyptian government of “not dealing seriously enough with the Regeni case”.
“Despite its claims to the contrary the Egyptian government has not been serious about cooperating with Italian judicial authorities in investigating the Regeni case. This omission allowed radical MPs in the Italian parliament to mobilise against Egypt,” claimed Henry.
Henry also accused the Foreign Ministry of failing to address the Regeni file with the necessary conviction. (see Editorial p.18)