Second recipient to return France's top award in protest after Macron honours Egypt's Sisi

Issued on: 14/12/2020 – 14:53

Two prominent Italians announced Monday they were returning their Legion of Honour awards ­– France’s highest – in protest at Paris’s decision to give the award to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Both recipients cited the 2016 killing of an Italian student in Cairo to explain their decisions.

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Corrado Augias, a long-time journalist for Italy’s la Repubblica daily newspaper and one-time member of the European Parliament, returned his medal to the French Embassy in Rome on Monday. Giovanna Melandri, a former culture minister and the president of Rome’s MAXXI contemporary art museum, announced she would follow suit.

Both cited Egypt’s role in the 2016 kidnapping, torture and killing of an Italian doctoral research student in Cairo, as well as the Sisi regime’s other human rights violations.

Speaking to reporters outside the embassy, Augias accused Sisi of being “objectively complicit, as head of state, in the criminal behaviour committed by his men”.

French President Emmanuel Macron last week gave Sisi the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour during a state visit to Paris, sparking outrage among activists who say France should do more to raise concerns about human rights in Egypt.

“On this occasion President Al-Sisi, who at the very least has an ambiguous position, could have been received with all the state honours … but without this further recognition,” Augias told reporters.

Melandri said in a Facebook post on Monday that she too would return the honour she received in 2003, saying it was sad but necessary.

“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.

The parents of Giulio Regeni, the Italian student tortured and murdered in Cairo in 2016 in an attack Italian prosecutors blame on Egyptian security officials, welcomed the gesture.

“Augias’ example is one of wonderful consistency and support for the cause of civil rights,” Paola and Claudio Regeni told Italian media on Sunday.

Roberto Fico, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament, also hailed the move.

“Europe must be united and supportive, never selfish, even more so when fundamental rights are at stake,” he said via Twitter.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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