Sunday, February 7, 2016

Giulio Regeni: Did Research Die With Him?

Sometimes shocking things happen at a pivotal time in your life. Sometimes you don't love anyone for years, then you meet two hotties and can't decide. Sometimes you lose someone in your family and the next day your dog dies. And sometimes you feel very insecure as a researcher, journalist and woman in Egypt and then the news reaches you that a man that you sometimes saw around, a handsome Italian PhD student, was found dead in a ditch adjacent from your home and the foreign authorities believe he was killed for being a regime-critic. When that happens, it feels like there is one too many straws on the back of the camel you're riding, and all you really want to do is go into hiding and wait for the moment to pass. But when was that ever possible?

This feeling of despair, not knowing what the next step should be and how to even properly react to Giulio Regeni's death last week is faint in my body compared to the magnitude it must have in his mother's. The tragedy, that a bright, promising young man is now dead and nobody knows why, is just one factor in mourning this loss. Far greater of a significance for all of us who didn't know Regeni personally is the significance his death has for our fears and danger. Because his fate could have been all of ours. Whether it was an accident that killed him, or the suspected intelligence everybody is prone to blame, Regeni would be alive today if he had just chosen not to be a researcher in Egypt.

As a person very similar to Regeni, I am affected by his death beyond my normal tendency for sympathy. I am not shocked that I in fact catch myself rethinking what I am going to write in this blog. Many believe that his death sentence was his personal opinion about the regime I live in, and my thoughts on said regime could equally put me in danger. If the measures to maintain the "order" that is present in this country include handling critics, even if they are foreign, like Regeni's case, then everybody I know in this country could be suffering the same fate. And yes, we could all be subject to accidents every day; the international media, who obviously don't dislike criticizing Egypt at any given opportunity, however, seem to be sure that the torture signs on the student's body were not the result of street thugs.

I wish it wouldn't have to take the death of somebody I feel connected to despite never having consciously spoken to him to make people realize that this threat we are living under is omnipresent. And while I believe we shouldn't be scared of evil and therefore avoid the good, it is crystal-clear that the mere suspicion of the regime being behind such an incident is ruining our possibility as researchers to exist in this country. Research, knowing, the truth and thorough, unbiased analysis are my passion, hobby and profession, and now I am too affected by fear and suspicion to be doing either of them. My life changes with the news, as it had after Charlie Hebdo or Newtown, and this time the change isn't just an increased amount of sympathy, belief in free speech and desire to not be alone anymore. This time it is the realization that what I am chasing to achieve in my life is no longer feasible for me where I am.

Even if Regeni was merely the victim of unfortunate events (which, of course, makes it no less sad, however less life-altering for a female researcher like me who is now debating if her lifetime aspirations are worth the danger they are putting her in), the fear that that is not the case will never cease. Nobody in this country would even have faith in an official ruling that the regime had no play in it. This country is poisoned with suspicion, and truth simply does not exist. So if I cannot rule out that I am in fact putting my life at risk with uttering criticism of any part of any given society, is the life I am hoping to live possible in Egypt? I don't know anymore. And although my feelings towards the death of Giulio Regeni are of a non-emotional, non-personal yet saddening nature, the tragedy behind this horrendous murder is like the clouds over Cairo these days: dark, damaging and trapping us inside where we feel like we may have found security from all of that... I mean rain...!

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