Italian journalist Corrado Augias lamented Macron's decision to give the Legion of Honour to Egyptian president Sisi by returning the same award he himself received in 2007.
Italian journalist, writer and TV host Corrado Augias personally returned his “Legion of Honour”, the most prestigious French accolade, to the French embassy in Rome on Monday.
The 85-year-old journalist, who is well known and respected in Italy, returned the award he received in 2007 on moral grounds. He felt conflicted that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who came to power via a military coup in 2013, should receive the same award and felt unwilling to stand beside the military dictator as a fellow recipient.
“In my opinion, President (Emmanuel) Macron should not have granted the Legion of Honor to a head of state who objectively became an accomplice of atrocious criminals,” Augias wrote in a letter published by Italian daily La Repubblica.
“The assassination of Giulio Regeni represents for us Italians a bloody wound, an affront, and I would have expected from President Macron a gesture of understanding if not of brotherhood, in the name of Europe we are trying together, so hard to build," he wrote.
Augias’s act reflects Italy's national anger against the Egyptian intelligence services, which are suspected of being involved in the kidnapping, torturing and killing of an Italian doctoral research student Giulio Regeni. In 2016, Regeni was found dead in mysterious circumstances in Cairo.
For Augias, Sisi is “objectively complicit, as head of state, in the criminal behaviour committed by his men.” He also holds the former military general responsible for the large scale human rights abuse carried out by Egyptian forces ever since he led a bloody coup to grab power from democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
While Egyptian authorities deny any involvement in Regeni’s death, observers say the signs of torture on his body were similar to those caused by the Egyptian police on the bodies of several other torture victims.
Together with Augias, former Italy culture minister Giovanna Melandri announced that she will return the same French award that she had received in 2003.
“I hope that this gesture can help open a frank and friendly confrontation in our two countries on which values should be that we want to defend, strengthen and continue to ‘honor' in a democratic Europe and a globalized world," she wrote.
Regeni, 28, went missing in February 2016 in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. His tortured body was found nine days later in a ditch near a road outside the capital. His body was so disfigured that his mother had said she recognised him only by the tip of his nose.
The victim was conducting research on Egypt’s labour unions at the time he went missing. His case was focusing on the worsening human rights situation under Sisi’s regime.
Investigators from both countries had been working together on the murder. The Italian side made public that the witnesses had talked to prosecutors in Rome, suggesting that Regeni was held by Egyptian security officials.
Cairo has denied its security services were involved in Regeni’s death. Egyptian sources claimed that his death was caused by a car accident and that a gang was then responsible for what happened next. However, these claims have never been substantiated.