The Italian People and the Egyptian Machtstaat

Over a year ago, addressing the apparatchiks of Washington and Brussels in CounterPunch, especially their leaders at the time of the Egyptian coup on 3rd July 2013, Obama, Kerry, Herman van Rompuy, Catherine Ashton, Cameron and Hollande, who are wont to make endless speeches about “defending liberal values”, I asked:


The question poses itself again, this time quite poignantly for the Italian public, since after a series of gruesome massacres in Egypt combined with an endless litany of disasters under the watch of the thug leader Sisi, we now have the matter of the torture and summary execution of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, travelling in Egypt to do research on a thesis on the Egyptian labour movement.

To detail the revolting events surrounding Regeni’s death without settling the basic problem relating to what our politicians are doing, only generates yet another emotional outburst, without anybody getting closer to a solution.

Let us start by denying that there is anything at all called ‘liberal values’ that the West has to defend. It isn’t a delusion so much as a misunderstanding. Our politicians need a course in political philosophy.

Perhaps if we stopped talking complete nonsense about ‘liberal values’ in the language of Montesquieu and Rousseau, and try to understand things instead in terms of the thought of Nazi political philosopher Carl Schmitt we might get somewhere. Schmitt is surely the father of modern Western political thought. We can only explain the rise of people like Hitler and Sisi if we read Schmitt. Schmidt had a fundamental impact on the thought of Leo Strauss (Norton 2004: 5, 35, 38-40). He influenced Alexandre Kojève, who in turn influenced Francis Fukuyama.

Sheldon Wolin tells us that Leo Strauss is one of the two main influences on today’s élitist political thought. Strauss taught Joseph Cropsey, who taught prominent members of the defence establishment like Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky (Norton 2004: 7). The second main influence on today’s thought according to Wolin is Samuel Huntington, of ‘clash of civilisations’ fame (Wolin 2010: 167).

This brings in the Islamic angle into the picture, which also involves Huntington’s pupil, Fareed Zacharia. The ground for Huntington’s musings was set out by neocon philosopher and Straussian Bernard Lewis (Allawi 2008: 6), in an early anti-Muslim diatribe. I shall come back to the Islamic angle after outlining the general problem.

Hans Morgenthau’s ‘dual state’ develops Schmitt’s idea of a ‘security state’ exiting in parallel to the ‘democratic’ state. The ‘democratic state’ gives legitimacy to the ‘security state’, whilst the ‘security state’ intervenes in the event of an emergency. Schmitt wrote in 1922 that the ‘security state’ is in fact the ‘sovereign’, because it determines what the emergencies are. Thus while ‘liberal values’ legitimate the ‘security state’, the very nature of the ‘security state’ erases that which legitimates it.

The Machtstaat

When Ernst Fraenkel relates the story of the Weimar Republic, he tells how ‘the monarchical aristocratic groups and the imperialistic sections of the upper bourgeoisie’ felt the need to promote the National Socialist Party to avoid any form of socialism. This was a direct result of disbanding the monarchy and the minimal legitimacy it offered, without seeking to put in place new structures of legitimacy in the new constitution (Fraenkel 2010: 168-170).

The Machtstaat – or ‘power state’ arises where the ‘deep state’ no longer maintains an apparatus whose existence is denied by ostensibly democratic institutions following the rule of law, but where the elements of the ‘security state’ then come to the ‘surface’ of politics to represent the moneyed interests who seek power, but no longer have the framework within which to do so.

Egypt post-2013 represents a recurrence of the same autocratic Machtstaat under the arbitrary individualised command that occurred during the Nazi SS state. Some argue that Adolf Hitler’s mental capacities functioned normally (Redlich 2000: 339), and others that his delusional conduct of WWII must certainly have been influenced by his systematic use of crystal-meth, but insanity has always been difficult to define. In respect of Egypt’s new tyrant, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, however, delusional megalomania combined with crushing stupidity effectively delivers what is unmistakably a toxic mix of insanity.

And yet this most nefarious form of government known to man has effectively been put in place by current European governments. The heads of state of France, Germany, and Britain have all given Sisi the red carpet treatment.

The destruction of Giulio Regini, talented PhD student

However, in an unbelievable twist of fate, in the light of the Regeni affair, it would be President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy, who were the very first to give formal recognition to the tyrant.

Regeni, who disappeared on 25th January 2016 and was disposed of on the Cairo-Alexandria road, on the side of an overpass, like a mauled dog, was ‘found’ on 3rd February.

Renzi has been forced by the public outcry in Italy finally to take a tough line with the Egyptian government. He fears the threats from Regeni’s mother to release photos of her son’s body and turn the Italian public into an ocean of rage. The prospect of the disclosure was unthinkable from his perspective. Mrs Regeni said that her son’s body had been so badly mutilated she could only recognise him by the tip of his nose. No simple hit-and-run this, as the Egyptian authorities had at first claimed.

Some European democratic institutions kicked up a fuss. A few members of the European Parliament wrote to their High Representative, but neither she (Federica Mogherini) nor any of the EU states other than Italy responded to the request. Although Regeni was a student at Cambridge University, Cameron appeared to remain unconcerned. On 24th February political scientist Catherine Gegout reacted to this and wrote about the deafening silence of Europe.

The European Parliament did keep pushing, although this only resulted in the Italian government on its own getting tough with Sisi and only over the specific matter of Regini, despite the fact that 4,600 academics wrote an open letter at the same time, demanding an enquiry into all the forced disappearances and cases of torture in Egypt, which are not only routine but accelerating frighteningly.

Gerry Connolly, the Democratic Congressman for Virginia’s 11th District, and a politician evidently committed to the ‘democratic state’, was prescient on this subject during the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 24th 2013, not long after the coup. It had become clear from those hearings that the US State Department had colluded in the overthrow of the democratically elected Morsi government of Egypt.

Connolly argued the State Department representative into a corner over her justifications for such a course of action. Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Near East Affairs, eventually ended up with the position that, because the Morsi government was a ‘fledging government’, and that ‘millions of people demonstrated against it’, it was right to remove it.

(The ‘millions of people’ was actually a reference to the carefully orchestrated 30th June 2013 ‘deep state’ operation intended to justify the subsequent coup on 3rd July, which actually involved no more than 400,000 people).

Connolly reminded Jones that those justifications had previously been used as arguments to remove Salvador Allende in Chile and install Augusto Pinochet which he said “…led to years of repression in the oldest democracy in the Western hemisphere… in the Southern part of the Western hemisphere. It led to thousands of people being killed, tortured and disappeared. In my view it is not okay for the United States government to say it is okay to overthrow a democratically elected government, however fledging or however much we disagree with it”. So history repeats etc….

To understand why what happened to Giulio Regeni happened, the general political discussion needs to continue. Details of what happened will follow.

The coming of the Machtstaat to Egypt

There is a general belief that Sisi’s arrival on the scene, as a result of a ‘counter-revolution’ following the January 2011 events, was a return of the old Mubarak dictatorship. This is a completely false notion. Sisi’s arrival was a manifestation of a shift in the character of the ‘deep state’ in Egypt which led to the creation of the Machtstaat.

Sisi’s rule is different to Mubarak’s and like Hitler’s, because it is marked by the collapse of all legitimacy, as in the case of the Weimar Republic.

Mubarak, despite everything, worked within certain constraints. The Egyptian General Intelligence Services (GIS or Mukhabarat) became a crucial pillar of the Mubarak régime from 1993 onwards, when it came not only to be responsible for its protection abroad, but also for domestic security. It became responsible for the new war on radical Islamic movements after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which led to 1,106 casualties in 1993 alone (including more than one hundred civilian deaths), accounting for 41 percent of all Egyptians killed and wounded in internal political violence since 1952 (Brownlee 2012: 60-1).

Accordingly, State Security Investigations Service (SSI or Mabahith Amn el-Dawla) came under its aegis. Furthermore, this intelligence-security complex had its budget tripled in 1995, after an attempt on Mubarak’s life in Addis Ababa (Sayigh 2012: 7). Omar Suleiman became the head of GIS and, essentially, the US point man in Egypt, which is why Obama sought to install him as Mubarak’s successor during the events of January 2011. This had actually been the US plan ever since the Bush years (Brownlee 2012: 2, 69, 108).

The significance of the GIS’s control over domestic security was that it was a block on the political power of the military. The military had become a beneficiary of Mubarak’s privatisations and its officers had considerably expanded their economic power, to such an extent in fact that his neo-liberal experiment risked completely ‘distorting’ the economy (Sayigh 2012: 7).

With the GIS on the one side and the military on the other balancing each other out, Mubarak saw himself as being to invest political power in the National Democratic Party (NDP), at the head of which he installed his son, Gamal.

The plan ultimately was for Gamal to succeed him, something which both the US and the Egyptian military were against. As political scientist Jason Brownlee notes about the entire course of the G. W. Bush ‘Freedom Agenda’: “When Bush and his national security team urged Mubarak to reform, they sought to broaden the spectrum of Egyptian politics to allow sustainable pro-U.S. alternatives, other than Mubarak’s heir apparent [Gamal] and the religiously conservative Muslim Brotherhood” (Brownlee 2012: 70).

After the Mubarak-Bush summit in April 2004, when Mubarak was told to open up elections to greater competition, he used the opportunity to make the necessary constitutional changes on the basis that the presidential vote would go to a plebiscite rather than the current system at the time of a parliamentary vote (Blaydes 2011: 192-209). Where the intelligence-security complex could ensure a win for himself, or eventually for Gamal, in any popular vote, he could never be sure of controlling the outcome if the vote was up to a parliament whose members he knew were outraged by the idea of a family succession.

In fact, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s ‘torture chief’, would always be the US preferred candidate to succeed Mubarak, and this would ensure the continuing dominance of the intelligence-security complex. So when the military found itself centre stage during the January 2011 events, in the form of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a previously low-key administrative council headed by Marshals Mohamed Tantawi and Sami Anan, it lost no time in disbanding the NDP and inciting riots outside all the country’s SIS branches. Mubarak’s political system was felled in two strokes.

It is significant that when it came to breaking into the SIS headquarters in Medinat Nasr in eastern Cairo, the military were there in force with their armoured personnel carriers. Whilst SIS was temporarily disbanded in the revolutionary period, its operations were reinstated to their previous level when Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar took over the Interior Ministry from Mohamed Ibrahim in June 2015, this time under the complete control of the military and Sisi. The wheel had begun turning under Mohamed Ibrahim but now domestic security (i.e. SIS), and therefore political power, belonged entirely to Sisi (and his military coterie headed by Defence Minister Subhi Sedky).

With GIS now stripped of its power over SIS, new turf wars erupted. It is this factor which had led to the slew of recorded leaks over Mohamed Morsi’s fabricated court cases, the so-called ‘Mekameleen tapes’ (after the TV station), other leaks over Sisi’s admission that none of the money given to him by the Arab Gulf nations to stage the coup has been handed to the country’s treasury, and yet more leaks demonstrating the personal control Sisi’s chief of staff Abbas Kamil exercises over Egypt’s broadcasters and their programmes.

Any one of these leaks would have unseated a normal government, but this is a Machtstaat with the unconditional backing of the US-European ‘deep state’.

Mubarak-era oligarchs who funded the coup, such as Naguib Sawiris, and Salah and Tawfik Diab, who seek some normality even for their type of larceny, have been marginalised. They are simply left winging on the touch line. State auditor Hesham Geneina (appointed by Sisi) who announced an enquiry into government corruption that had cost the country about $76bn in four years is fired and charged by the public prosecutor with undermining the state. After insulting the Gulf Arabs and belittling their handouts, as per the leaks, the Gulf Arabs have to keep on coming back with loads more money.

Thus nature of the Sisi régime is entirely different to that of Mubarak, who never dreamt of the scale of corruption and economic devastation currently visited on Egypt. This is because the Machtstaat is an engine of pillage and destruction completely outside the rule of law. The difference with Hitler, is that instead of visiting destruction foreign nations and Jews for the benefit of ethnic Germans, Sisi aims to destroy his own nation and the Muslim Brotherhood after hitching his wagon to Israel which, ever since the assassination of Rabin 1995 and the end of the peace process, and the neocon ‘Clean Break’ strategy proposed in 1996 but only implemented in 2002/3, is the power base of the US-European ‘deep state’ in the face of the ‘democratic state’ and its institutions.

In fact in this respect Mubarak had posed a problem to the ‘security state’. In complete contrast to Sisi, with his political calculations and his firm grip on power, Mubarak always insisted on Israel carrying out its pledges to the Palestinians. Morsi, when he came to power, actually didn’t say anything in that regard which was particularly new.

When G. W. Bush went behind Mubarak’s back in 2004, and instead of affirming a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders to Sharon, said that some Israeli settlements in the West Bank had to be accepted, Mubarak exploded. In Paris, on his way back from Washington, he announced to the media: “Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region.… People have a feeling of injustice. What’s more, they see Sharon acting as he pleases, without the Americans saying anything” (Brownlee 2012: 85).

The ‘Islamic’ angle to the whole ‘clash of civilisations’ hogwash was centered on Israel, and seeks to create a ‘space of exception’ in the Middle East for the ‘security state’ as a power base, from where it can control the democratic institutions in the West. This is why you can believe that British Intelligence Services are aiding and abetting European jihadis to travel to Syria. This why minor but extremely wealthy Sheikhdoms like Abu Dhabi, allies and watering holes par excellence for the British ‘security state’, are at the sharp end of anti-democratic movements, and why it is (otherwise inexplicably) on both sides of the conflict in both Yemen and Syria. Examples and anecdotes abound, but this is not the place… so, back to the subject.

What happened to Giulio Regeni

In the customary manner of the leaks issuing from Egypt on all kinds of incendiary subjects, an anonymous e-mail reached the computers of the centre-left Italian paper La Repubblica, which described in detail what happened to Regeni between January 25th and February 3rd . Italy’s deputy chief proscutor Sergio Colaiocco and the Regeni family lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, immediately became involved. The e-mail was explosive, and their immediate concern was to establish its veracity. This they did by correlating the narrative in regards to Regeni’s treatment, with heretofore undisclosed facts about the state of his corpse.

The e-mail charged Khalid Shalabi, Chief of Police in the criminal investigations department in Giza, with responsibility for the original arrest. It had been Shalabi’s minions who had monitored Regeni’s movements up until 25th January, tailing him between his flat, the American University of Cairo where he worked, and his meetings with friends and personnages in the Egyptian labour movement, which was the subject of his PhD. Shalabi held Regeni for 24 hours, and it was he who would announce the ‘hit-and-run’ as the cause of death, charging that Regeni had been mixing with rent boys.

His phone and documents were taken away when in the Giza police station. Regeni refused to talk without the presence of a translator or a member of the Italian Embassy staff. Repeatedly the interrogators ignored his requests and kept asking him about his network of contacts with the labour movement and what they were planning. No results were forthcoming and on 27th January Madgy Abdel-Ghaffar became involved and transferred Regeni to SIS headquarters at Medinat Nasr, giving Mohamed Sha‘rawy – head of SIS – orders to ‘loosen his tongue’.

This led to 48 hours of constant torture during which time Regeni lapsed in and out of unconsciousness. He was electrocuted, and sometimes this was done to his private parts. He was beaten on the soles of the feet, hung by a door, and deprived of water, food and sleep. He was left in a cell covered in a shallow layer of water through which an electric current was passed every thirty seconds.

Sergio Colaiocco and Alessandra Ballerini correlated these aggressions on the young Italian, which the marks on his corpse.

Regeni’s continued silence led Abdel-Ghaffar to appeal to Sisi’s personal national security adviser, Ahmad Jamal al-Din. Jamal al-Din and Sisi agreed the best thing to do was to sent Regeni to Sisi’s own paddock – Military Intelligence. Upon receiving the young Italian student, Military Intelligence, priding its effectiveness in the business of torture over that of even SIS, launched a ferocious attack on the poor man, which included ceaseless anal raping with a specialised bayonet. Once again, Colaiocco and Ballerini recognised the effects of this atrocity on the corpse, especially the particular kind of lesions the type of bayonet, when described, would leave behind.

Regeni’s interrogators become unfuriated when in a brief moment of consciousness and lucidity he demands, once again, a translator and the attendance of a representative of the Italian Embassy.

He is in such a poor state that doctors are called in this time to assess whether the poor young man is up the next bout of torture they had planned for him. When the doctors give the go ahead, this time, the assault is totally merciless and involves cigarette burns to the ears and neck. Regeni dies.

What to do? For some reason, his ear lobes are removed (a further point of verification of the e-mail). The corpse is then refrigerated at the Kobri al Qubba militray hospital.

Sisi, Abdel-Ghaffar, Abbas Kamil, and national security adviser (Mrs) Fayza Abu al Naja meet and decide that an ambulance should take Giulio Regeni and throw him on the side of the road on the overpass near 6th October City, known to be frequented by rent boys, where he is found on the 3rd February.

When the initial story about rent boys and hit-and-run was discredited, time passed and Italian investigators came and went, the Egyptian régime, losing patience, decided to put an end to the affair in time-honoured manner.

On 24th March Abdel-Ghaffar’s ministry announced that “security forces managed to track down a gang in new Cairo that used to pose as policemen. It specialised in abducting foreigners and robbing them. There was an exchange of fire with the police and all members of the gang were killed”. Apparently, whilst raiding the flats of the various gang members, Egyptian police find Regeni’s documents including his passport.

The question poses itself then as to how anybody knew the body of the young man, whose mother couldn’t recognise him except by the tip of his nose, was Giulio Regeni. When discovered his body was taken immediately to the Umberto I Italian hospital in Cairo by the police. Admittedly, Regeni had been missing for a week, and the police was under pressure to find him. But to take the body immediately to the Italian hospital, meant that those who took him there were directly under Abdel-Ghaffar’s orders.

Who sent the e-mail? An Egyptian delegation was due to visit Italy to discuss the Regeni case this week – the trip was cancelled after La Repubblica publishes the contents of the e-mail. The delegation was clearly going to hand someone’s scalp to the Italians, and that scalp couldn’t really be anyone other than Shalabi’s – the original arresting officer. So Shalabi sends the e-mail anonymously to implicate the entire régime of thugs and save his own skin.

The Italian people are unlikely to get justice anytime soon. The Egyptian Machtstaat is the creature of their own security state. Just like Britain, the Italian state pillages Egypt, waiting to announce the ENI gas find after the Egyptian coup, although knowing about it before, and paying a pittance for the rights to the resource.

Omar Kassem can be reached through his website at