Politician who fled Egypt arrested in Sicily
Egypt Politician who fled Egypt arrested in Sicily
Mohamed Mahsoub briefly held, in sign of warming ties between Italyâs rightwing government and the Sisi regime
The arrest of a former Egyptian politician in Sicily has highlighted growing ties between Italyâs rightwing government and the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
âItalian police have been holding me for three hours near the city of Comiso at the request of the Egyptian authorities to extradite me,â tweeted Mohamed Mahsoub, who was Egyptâs minister of state for parliamentary affairs from August to December 2012, representing the Islamist al-Wasat party. âThey refuse to disclose the charges against me.â
Mahsoub was stopped and questioned at Catania airport on Wednesday, before travelling to a hotel in the city of Comiso, about 56 miles away, where he was arrested and held overnight by Italian police.
He released a video stating that he was inside a police station in Comiso, saying: âAll the accusations are fabricated charges.â
A police source in Sicily told the Guardian that Mahsoub was not arrested, but âstopped for identification. We canât give more information right now.ââ Mahsoub was released later on Thursday afternoon.
Mahsoub, one of tw o vice presidents of al-Wasat, had fled Egypt following the military coup and Islamist purge in 2013 which brought Sisi to power. A red notice for his arrest on the Interpol website lists his full name, Mohamed Mahsoub Abdel Megeed Darwish Badran, and an alleged fraud charge filed by the government of Egypt.
His arrest is the latest episode marking closer ties between the new populist government of Giuseppe Conte and Egypt following a period of tension spurred by the brutal murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in early 2016. Regeniâs body was found on a desert road bearing signs of torture in February that year, leading many observers to suspect his death came at the hands of the Egyptian state. In January, Rome prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone stated that Regeni was killed due to his research on independent trade unions in Egypt, and that he âhad for months attracted the attention of Egyptâs state apparatusâ.
Egypt has continued to deny any role in R egeniâs death. During a recent meeting between Sisi and the Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, Sisi reiterated Egyptâs âstrong willâ to catch Regeniâs killers, although vital CCTV footage of the Cairo metro on the day of his disappearance provided to Italian investigators a month previously had âunexplained gapsâ, according to Italian investigators.
The shift to the right in Italian politics could be an unexpected boon for Egypt, a vital international partner for Italy in relation to migration from North Africa and the ongoing civil war in Libya, and the location of the giant Zohr natural gas field, where Italian gas company Eni plays a vital role in production.
In June, Salvini told journalists: âRegeni? Relations with Egypt are more important.â He said the search for justice was a matter for the Regeni family, not the state.
When contacted by the Guardian, the Regeni familyâs lawyer in Italy, Alessandra Ballerini, said she was aware of Mahsoubâs arrest but declined to comment on what closer Italian-Egyptian ties could mean for the case.
âObviously the case will be affected by closer [relations] between Egypt and Italy, political relations do have an impact on the course of cooperation over the investigation,â said Mohammed Lotfy of the Cairo-based NGO the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, whose lawyers act as the Regeni familyâs Egyptian legal counsel.
Closer relations between the Conte government â" a coalition that includes Salviniâs far-right League party â" and the Egyptians could also result in more arrests like that of Mahsoub, who has been subject to an Interpol red notice for several years. Extradition demands by the Egyptian authorities to European countries are rare. The last one was in 2015, when Egypt made a direct request to the German government to arrest and extradite television presenter Ahmed Mansour of the Qatari al-Jazeera channel at a Berlin airport.
âWe are working on the [Mahsoub] case, but we donât know much yet. We just know his extradition to Egypt would breach human rights,ââ Riccardo Noury, a spokesman for Amnesty International in Italy, told the Guardian before Mahsoubâs release.
Interpol removed red notices for 40 Muslim Brotherhood figures from its site in September 2017, a move that provoked scorn from the Egyptian authorities, who say they are wanted on terrorism charges. Egypt has been criticised by lawyers who work to combat red notices for using Interpolâs system of international alerts for political reasons.
Additional reporting by Adham Youssef in Cairo
- Middle East and North Africa
- Abdel Fatah al-Sisi
- Matteo Salvini
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