As Head of Department at POLIS I wish to express my profound shock and sadness at the death of our student Giulio Regeni. Our very deepest sympathy goes out to Giulio’s family and his many friends.
On Friday, following consultation with the Mistress of Girton, Giulio’s college, I wrote to the Egyptian Consul General in London to convey our sense of shock and to ask to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation into the circumstances of Giulio’s death, as a matter of urgency. The text of this letter is published at the end of the page. Our request has been acknowledged and we will pursue this and any other means to try to discover the truth behind this appalling event.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, the Mistress of Girton and the Head of the Centre of Development Studies have all been in contact with Giulio’s family to offer our deepest condolences. Events have been held in the Department and in Girton to remember Giulio and to mourn for his loss. We will be discussing with Giulio’s college and his friends how we can best commemorate his life and work in due course.
Head of Department
Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo, Egypt on 3rd February, was a highly promising young scholar of social and economic development in the Middle East. Giulio came to the University of Cambridge in 2011, after previously obtaining a first class degree for his BA in Arabic and Politics at the University of Leeds. In Cambridge, he studied for a master’s degree in Development Studies. His academic results were excellent, and he was awarded a high pass in completing the degree. His time on this MPhil also fostered his academic interests in the Middle East, and took him on to applying for professional postings in the region. He ended up in Cairo, working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, where he furthered his keen interests in the labour sector, economic change and governance in a country that was undergoing significant political changes.
Wanting to develop these interests more systematically, and after a year working for the international consulting firm Oxford Analytica, Giulio came back to Cambridge in 2014. He returned to the Centre of Development Studies at the Department of Politics and International Studies to study for a PhD, with the aim of pursuing an academic career. Inspired by work on how trade unions organised in pre-2011 Egypt, Giulio sought to understand how the labour sector was changing in the country, in the context of economic globalisation and greater international institutional linkages. After completing the first year of the PhD in Cambridge, he arranged to spend part of the year 2015-16 as a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo.
Giulio was passionate about his research. He was always receptive to new ideas and approaches, but his work remained driven by a sense of justice. Giulio was enthusiastic also about communicating his knowledge to a wider audience. He signed up to teach a course on the comparative politics of the Middle East to undergraduate students, intending initially to return to Cambridge from Egypt in early January 2016 to begin teaching. But with research and conversations in Cairo progressing well, he postponed his intended return until March. He was last seen alive on 25th January, travelling by metro in central Cairo, on his way to visit friends. He was 28 years old at the time.
Memories of Giulio
Giulio was my PhD buddy. A fellow lover of Egypt, social justice, and human dignity. On Friday the 5th of February, a few days after Giulio's body had been found, I went to a ceremony for him at Girton College. Every chair in the room was occupied. We were all invited to light a candle and share a few memories. It soon became clear that none of us could. One candle after the other was lit in complete silence. Never before have I been at a ceremony where people were all too struck by someone's death to say a single word. So consider this one of my memories. You were so loved that nobody was able to sing your praises. Nothing that could have been put in words would have done you justice. And nothing that we could have said would have been able to express the absolute terror we feel of having lost you in the way we did. How such kindness could have met such cruelty is simply beyond words. Sometimes, silence rings the loudest.
Giulio was one of the first PhD students in development studies to introduce himself to me during my MPhil, to take a genuine interest in my work, and to make me feel like I was a part of the department. Despite him not knowing me very well, he went out of his way to make it a welcoming environment, and I am grateful for that. He will be missed, in the department and beyond.
Giulio thank you for your courage, your curiosity and the powerful gift you have left us in our memories and your work. You just have left such an incredible, inspirational path behind you. It's so difficult to find the right words but I wanted to say thank you, somehow, for your engagement with my research too. Thanks for staying to chat, for sharing ideas (and our common heroes!) Your writing brings deep respect to the daily, exhausting and vital work of people whose efforts are barely recognised elsewhere. To the personal relations, the everyday indignation and stubborn perseverance in the efforts to build a better world. You documented hope, even where it is so hard to see, especially now. Not hope in the abstract sense, but a hope that takes strength and commitment. There just are so many more things to talk about, so many paths left to explore. But instead all I can say is that all of us who knew you - and all those others who will know you in your work and in your memory - will try our best to keep struggling for that kind of just, compassionate world that you fought for. Giulio, rest in deep peace, but we will keep fighting with you.
Nessuno potrà spegnere i sogni , la curiosità per la vita , l'amore per le pagine della storia , l'impegno civile e sociale, il desiderio di dare un significato alla propria vita, costruendo un percorso dedicato a tutti. Una preghiera per Giulio.
Giulio was passionate and committed researcher, a person with a sense of humour, and a good friend. I met Giulio in the French course offered by CULP. After realizing that we were from the same department, we became friends. Since we were based in the ARB building, we often went for coffee or lunch, or took a short break from writing by having a casual or ‘academic’ conversation in the green sofa area and exchanging ideas. He enjoyed analysing development issues, conflicts (or post-conflict situations), Europe, and many other societal problems. We also talked and argued about casual and study-related issues. As a person looking for solutions to problems, Giulio was one of those people who sought to contribute to making the world a better place.
Giulio was in my eyes unrivalled in his intellectual curiosity amongst our peers. It is with huge admiration that I remember him determinately and resolutely asking for feedback from all of us amongst the PhD students whenever he gave a presentation or simply voiced an idea in conversation. The reason he would do this more than the rest of us was because he wanted to be meticulous in his work and understanding, to ensure that he was not making errors, and quite simply because he was so evidently instilled with an insatiable yearning to understand the world around him. He has set a fine example for the rest of us, and I will forever try to be as brave and determined as he was.
Touching on the above theme, I will never forget Giulio's idealism and genuine desire to see the world become a better place. He inspired me in this regard - talking about the Green Party, the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the like. You could see in his eyes the excitement at the thought of a society becoming fairer, and again a kind of steely belief that things really good be better.
These qualities are endlessly admirable, yet they are not the things I will miss most about Giulio. At the end of the day it is always the personal that counts. Giulio was exceptionally positive and friendly, keen to make all people feel happy and comfortable. Anecdotally, the caring patience that he showed when speaking to various visiting fellows whose English was not strong was sincerely amazing, and it was emblematic of the kind of person that he was. The kind of person who would take the time to be friendly to everyone.
It is a wrenchingly heartbreaking injustice that Giulio has been killed. He was an exceptional person, and I, like all of our mutual friends, will miss him immensely. He is an inspiration to all those who want to do good.
You know how researchers specialising in a particular field/ area sometimes feign interest in studies that lie outside of our zone of interest? Giulio never did that. He was one of those rare scholars - genuinely curious with insatiable thirst for knowledge. He was sincerely interested in the research of everyone in his department (including mine which was based on education in India – far from his research interest!). Sitting in our department and discussing my thesis, with him asking me questions out of genuine interest, helped me in my research because his questions and ideas always made me think and improve.
His intellectual capability and profound passion for knowledge and research was unmatched. No wonder he became such an international citizen with affiliations to some of the best global educational institutions like United World College, University of Cambridge, and American University in Cairo. He was fluent in four languages – English, Spanish, Arabic and Italian: a quality I was always envious of. His passion for Middle Eastern studies and his love for Egypt were as infectious as his bright smile.
The goodness in him was not limited to his superior scholarly capability. He was also an extremely kind and compassionate person. We were both assistants to late Professor Ajit Singh (who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease), and I clearly remember how actively Giulio would be by Prof Singh’s side whenever needed. My last conversation with Giulio was regarding Prof Singh’s birthday gift, and Giulio had great plans for a celebration. Unfortunately, Prof Singh passed away before we could bring Giulio’s vision for his birthday to life.
Giulio was a good person, colleague, researcher and friend. It was a privilege knowing him. I thank him today for showing sincere interest in my research and helping me with my work, for always being kind to all of us, for showing us the true definition of courage, and for teaching us the valuable lessons of tolerance and fearless pursuit of knowledge and truth. He will be missed dearly.
Letter to Egyptian Consul General
5th February 2016
Dear Mr. Youssef,
It is with huge sadness that I have learnt of the loss of one of our PhD students, Giulio Regeni.
Giulio was on a field study trip in Cairo, contributing towards his doctoral work on the Egyptian economy. He was found dead in the capital on 3 February 2016.
We take the welfare of our students very seriously. It is hard for Giulio’s family and for us to comprehend how such a talented student could meet his death in the Egyptian capital as he carried out his important academic research. We note that the Italian authorities have urged you to conduct a thorough investigation with the participation of Italian experts and we, too, call on you to conduct a thorough and complete investigation into this tragic incident.
I would like to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation.
Professor David Runciman