Month: March 2016

What could peace in Syria look like?

The withdrawal of Russian troops from the Syrian conflict has taken many by surprise.

Some commentators have noted the surgical nature of the world’s largest country’s intervention into Russia. The goals of the intervention – to strengthen the Assad regime’s hand at the negotiating table – look like done deeds.

The sum total of the intervention was five months. Russia will remove its ground troops but remain in control of a naval base in the coastal Mediterranean province of Latakia (as well a naval refueling station in Tartus).

Speculation has it that Putin wanted to avoid a costly, drawn-up military struggle, given the tanking Soviet economy and sanctions over the Ukraine, which are still biting.

Negotiations in Geneva

Observers from Washington will be watching with some envy, after the dithering about intervention into Syria from the Obama administration. The United States has consistently linked military intervention with nation building – and has been reluctant to get dragged into another Iraq in Syria.


Russian maneuvering has been largely responsible for a ceasefire agreement in Geneva which has halted the flow of weapons into Syria. A report in the Middle East Eye stated that “the entire armed opposition has thus been shut down in Syria on the insistence of the United States”.

A future role for Assad in government looks increasingly assured (although what shape this role will be is up for grabs) . The United States has refused to entertain the idea of Assad’s future leadership, largely because of human rights concerns, namely the use of chemical weapons by Assad on Syrian civilians.

The Syrian Centre for Policy Research has listed 470,000 Syrian civilians as casualties of the conflict, with many more displaced.


Human rights officials have already called for justice on both sides as part of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

A United Nations Security Council resolution referring the conflict to the International Criminal Court was blocked by China and Russia in May 2014. A subsequent resolution made no mention of  criminal justice in the roadmap to peace.

Outrage over alleged torture of Italian student Regeni in Egypt

The murder of Italian national and Cambridge PhD student Giulo Regeni whilst carrying out research in Cairo, Egypt, has troubling consequences for Freedom of Expression and other human rights in that country.

The body of Regeni – 28 years old – was found on the outskirts of Cairo with signs of torture on February 3. The murder has been alleged to have been committed by the Egyptian Security Forces.

Regini was carrying out research on Egyptian labor unions and had been in contact with Egyptian opposition forces when he went missing on January 25.

Giulo Regeni


The act has led to the rapid deterioration of relations between Egypt and the European Union. Egypt has claimed that systematic state torture does not exist and has distanced itself from involvement in Regeni’s killing.

Relations between Egypt and Italy have deteriorated with a trade delegation suspended. Economic ties between Egypt and Italy are strong, with the recent discovery of a major natural gas field in Egypt by Italian energy giant Eni.

The European Parliament has called for an impartial and effective investigation of those responsible for the abduction and killing of Regeni in a non-binding resolution passed by a vote of 588-10 on the 11 March.

The deterioration of the situation of human rights in Egypt has become an increasing focus for the European Parliament. Spanish member and chair of the human rights subcommittee Elena Valenciano said that “the respect of human rights and international commitments is a core principle of the agreements between the Eu and Egypt. We must live up to that commitment.”

The resolution also calls for an end to the closure and ongoing harassment of civil society groups working in Egypt.

Arms deals between Egypt and France, Germany and the United Kingdom have been condemned as short-cited and there have been calls to suspend export of any equipment which might be used for “internal repression”. Egypt says that it needs the equipment in Libya and parts of the Sinai peninsula to fight off extremist attacks.

There has also been outrage expressed by the academic community. More than 4,600 academics from more than 90 different countries signed an open letter protesting against the murder  and torture of Regeni. The letter was started in Cambridge by Regeni’s colleagues but went viral amongst academics.

A Memorial for Regeni


The letter notes that state institutions in Egypt “routinely practice the same kinds of torture that Guilio is reported to have suffered against hundreds of Egyptian citizens each year.”

In addition to his academic activities, it has emerged that Regeni also worked as a journalist for Il Manifesto, an Italian communist newspaper.

This blog has discussed the deterioration of press freedom of Egypt previously, with the imprisonment of Peter Greste and other local journalists working for Al Jazeera. In December 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Egypt as the second biggest jailer of journalists worldwide, the honour of first place going to China. Other top jailers of journalists include Iran, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.