We Arabs may be the people in the world who write the most poetry and romantic odes about human virtues such as brotherhood, justice, equality and the need to protect humanity, its soul and its right to inheritance. Our emotions, though, are nothing more in today’s reality.
The fact that we are in this position comes as no surprise. I say this as we are see Italy’s media campaign centred on politics, humanitarianism and civil liberties; as we witness its dedication to these virtues in its reaction to the death of student Giulio Regeni who was killed in Egypt a few months ago. Italy did not let the death of its citizen pass without comment just so that it could maintain its “economic” relationship with Egypt. It has pursued this case so that Regeni’s death has become a pan-European if not global issue. The Egyptian government now finds itself in an unenviable position because the Italian media in particular, and the world in general, has turned Egypt and its credibility into dust.
There is no doubt that the regime in Cairo is facing a crisis because of the unbelievable conditions that are experienced by the majority of Egyptians. This is not due to price increases, nor to the political authoritarianism in the country, but is because the regime is in the middle of an international scandal due to the death of an Italian university student in Egypt at the hands of the intelligence services or some other agency. It does not matter who killed Regeni, according to the Italians, but what is important is that an Italian citizen was killed in Egypt under mysterious circumstances. From an Italian perspective, therefore, it is important to shake the ground under the feet of the Egyptian authorities.
Not a day goes by without members of the Italian parliament mentioning Regeni’s name. Not a day goes by without the Italian newspapers covering every detail of the case and its progress. Not a day goes by that Egypt is not criticised. Not a day goes by that demonstrations do not take place on Italian streets and they are happening because of Regeni’s death. Not a day goes by that the Egyptian government does not find itself in a predicament because it has yet to provide the Italian government with any reasonable explanation about what happened to the student.
It was sad to see Egyptian representatives at a televised press conference answering questions as if they were in the dock in a court. They struggled to answer embarrassing questions. Both the Egyptian government and media have expressed their regret with regards to Regeni’s death, and there is now no other option but to find a way to free them from the consequences of this issue. Regeni’s ghost has become a nightmare for the regime that finds itself preoccupied with the death of a European citizen and Italy’s recall of its ambassador from Cairo.
Notice how the Italian government and people responded to the death of one university student in Egypt, and compare that to the tens of thousands of Arabs dying every day without anyone ever hearing of their story or knowing their name. Who is seeking justice on their behalf? A country which views the death of one citizen as the death of an entire nation is one which will work to protect human rights and force anyone who seeks to violate them to think twice about it. This is how self-respecting governments protect themselves and their people. Nobody can take governments seriously if they swat their own people like flies.
Regini’s case reminds me of the Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was held captive by Hamas for more than 5 years. Not a single day went by that Israel did not try to rescue him. Shalit’s case became a cause célèbre across the globe. As it took centre stage, an article appeared under the following title “Shalit the Israeli and Shalout the Arab”. Shalout is an Arabic vernacular term meaning to “to be kicked aside”. The article painted a clear picture of the differences between an Israeli or Western citizen on one hand and an Arab citizen on the other by making the distinction that the former is treated like a citizen while the other is thrown aside like an old shoe. When we Arabs call for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli hostage, we are admitting to the discrepancies in the value of human beings, and that one Israeli, or westerner, is worth thousands of Arabs.
Now look to how the Israeli government is trying everything within its power to retrieve the remains of the famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was captured by the Syrian regime years ago and killed. Did you know that the Israelis have been speaking with the Russians in an effort to convince the Syrian regime to release Cohen’s remains so that he can be reburied in Israel? Do not be surprised if Bashar Al-Assad releases them via the Russians so that he can gain more Israeli support.
Notice the difference between Israel and the Syrian regime; while the Israeli government has been asking Putin for his help to retrieve the remains of one person, Assad has been asking him for his help to slaughter Syrians. His regime has been using all of Russia’s new weaponry to kill Syrians and destroy Syria. Putin himself admitted recently that Syria is the best place to try out new weapons and munitions.
A leader who makes little of his people gives the green light to outsiders to disrespect and hate him and them. Respect your citizens so that others can respect you.