The death of Cambridge academic Giulio Regeni has caused considerable controversy in recent years, with still very little known about his death, despite it approaching a decade since his demise.

It is known that Regeni was abducted and tragically tortured to death in Egypt in 2016. But the exact circumstances behind the death, as well as the motivation, is unknown.


Giulio Regeni was born in 1988 and hailed from Trieste, Italy. He excelled in education, and eventually began a PhD course at Girton College, Cambridge University.

By 2015, in line with his research topic, Regeni was researching independent trade unions in Egypt, being a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo.

However, in recent years, trade unions have become a very politically sensitive subject in Egypt, due in part to a poor relationship between the Egyptian government and its people.

Alarm bells regarding Regeni first sounded on 25th January 2015. He was due to meet a friend on this day, however he didn’t appear at their schedyled meeting.

He was reported as missing. Eventually, Regeni’s body was found on 3rd February 2015 – mutilated and half-naked in a ditch on the outskirts of Cairo.


An autopsy was carried out on Regeni’s body. There were significant concerns over what had happened to Regeni – such was the situation of his body.

The autopsy found he had been extensively tortured prior to his death. His body had been covered in bruises and cuts, with several broken bones found.

Among the other injuries included stab wounds, cigarette burns and a brain hemorrhage. The findings were abhorrent, with Regeni clearly having been tortured extensively.

Perhaps most sickeningly, the autopsy suggested that Regeni had been tortured over a 7-10 day period at intervals of 10-14 hours.

The letter ‘X’ had also been carved into his forehead and hand. His cause of death was a broken cervical vertebra.

Egyptian officials also carried out an autopsy, though their findings were never made public. This was just one of many concerns raised over Egypt’s involvement in the case.

Investigations into Regeni’s death

Both Italian and Egyptian investigations took place. Italian investigators found the case very difficult to look into – with crucial CCTV that could’ve given an idea of Regeni’s movements having been deleted.

Egypt’s response was that a criminal gang had been responsible for both his kidnapping and murder. They suggested that the gang had a history of abducting foreign nationals. Egyptian officials went on to say they had subsequently killed the entire gang in a shootout.

Many have dismissed this apparent shootout as a fantasy. In fact, Italian officials found evidence that the gang leader had been nowhere near Cairo at the time of Regeni’s torture and eventual death.

With the Italian investigation faltering and the Egyptian investigation suggesting that the perpetrators had been killed, there was very little movement on the case.

Was the Egyptian Government involved in Giulio Regeni’s Death?

One of the major controversies in the case of Giulio Regeni concerns the potential involvement of the Egyptian government. Egypt is ruled by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi – who runs an Authoritarian regime.

As mentioned earlier, Regeni’s research into trade unions meant he tapped into a rather sensitive political subject. el-Sisi was in the early days of his rule at the time.

The highly-reputable Reuters reported that their sources indicated Regeni had been in police custody prior to his death. Furthermore, the New York Times claimed that the United States government had “proof” that Egyptian security services had killed Regeni.

Egypt’s security services have denied any wrongdoing in this case, including the suggestion that Regeni had died in their custody. However, the Egyptian security services have confirmed they had monitored Regeni, but suggested they had taken no further action.

Many have hypothesised that Egypt believed Regeni was a spy. There must have been some concern for Egypt’s security services to get involved. Unless of course he truly was abducted by a criminal gang.

There have been countless reports of human rights abuses in Egypt – especially among those who oppose the government. Several organisations around the world have raised concerns about events in Egypt.

Italy is attempting to try in absentia Four Egyptian security agents on the charges of kidnapping, torturing and murdering Regeni. Unfortunately, Italian officials have been unable to reach these four, and it is believed that Egypt would oppose any international warrant or extradition order.

Was Dr. Maha Abdelrahman involved in Giulio Regeni’s death?

In late 2017, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper made allegations to suggest Dr. Maha Abdelrahman – a fellow academic at Cambridge University – was partially responsible for Regeni’s death.

They accused Abdelrahman – who is Egyptian – of allowing a “dangerous” topic to be researched by Regeni. The suggestion was that Abdelrahman knew she was putting Regeni in danger, and that she essentially had blood on her hands.

This led to a statement being released by the University of Cambridge, which defended Dr Abdelrahman. The statement suggested there have been “concerted efforts” against the academic, despite her willingness to cooperate with investigations.

Dr. Abdelrahman was questioned three times by Italian investigators, which also included her handing over her computer and mobile phone for examination. Hundreds of academics have defended Dr. Abdelrahman.

There has been ongoing speculation over her role, with Italian investigators trying to determine her role within the research of Regeni. In recent years, speculation over Dr. Abdelrahman’s potential role in the case has calmed. But questions do remain.

International fury

There was fury at the case from around the world. Over 4,500 academic around the world called for a thorough investigation into Regeni’s death.

There was some criticism of the United Kingdom – where Cambridge University is based – for not piling pressure on Egypt. Moreover, the Italian government criticised France for their lack of support on the case. Given Egypt’s dependence on French trade, the Italians had hoped France would step in.

Following the aforementioned New York Times article, there was also criticism of American President Barack Obama – who was reported to have been provided with proof that there was Egyptian involvement in Regeni’s case.

Italian and Egyptian relations also declined following the event. There was particular anger from Italian nationals, especially towards the Egyptian government. The case has remained prominent in Italian media.

The parents of Giulio Regeni – Paola and Claudio Regeni – have had to deal with the tragic passing of their son, as well as a subsequent lack of answers to their questions.

The Takeaway

The case of Giulio Regeni is very unfortunate, with so many unanswered questions remaining. The Egyptian security services certainly appear to be involved in the case, but it isn’t known to what extent this is.

Regardless of what happened, the tragedy is that Regeni passed away. His final days would have been a horrific experience. But he continues to achieve mass support, with many intent on getting justice for Giulio Regeni.