Alain Gresh, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, was born in Cairo in 1948 to a French family, of whom some were Jews and others were Christians. But he has developed Egyptian traits in his personality that he learned from his friends.
His mother was a prominent member of the communist Democratic Movement for National Liberation and his godfather was Henri Curiel, the founder of the movement.
His family left Egypt in 1962, although Gresh believed President Nasser was the leader of national liberation.
He comes to Egypt every year, especially after the January 2011 revolution, in order to follow-up on developments in the Arab Spring.
Gresh recently talked about the situation in Egypt and the Middle East in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Q: What can you tell us about your early years in Cairo?
A: I was born to a French family, of whom some were Jews and others were Christians, but I have developed Egyptian traits in my personality that I have picked up from my friends.
Q: Was your family forced to leave?
A: Not forced as such. Nasser’s socialist policies were hurting the businesses of the Jews. Also, it was not possible for the Jews to stay amid the hostility to them after the Tripartite Aggression, although not all of them were Zionists.
I left with my family, although I believed Nasser was a leader of national liberalization.
There was harmony among all citizens before that, with no distinction between Jews, Muslims and Copts.
Q: Did the Egyptian Jews give great services to the country?
A: By all means. There was no difference between Jews, Muslims and Christians. They were all living in social peace. There were 50,000 to 70,000 foreign and Egyptian Jews. Their problem was that they themselves were not united.
Strangely enough, Zionist organizations worked in Egypt until the end of the 1940s under the nose of the government. Many Jews played an important role in the National Liberation Movement, not only in Egypt, but also in many other Arab countries.
Some of them chose to stay in Egypt. Shehata Aaron, the father of Magda Aaron, the head of the Jewish community in Egypt, tried to volunteer in the army in April 1967 when there were signs of a problem with Israel, but was rejected. And on June 6, he was arrested because he was Jewish.
Q: How do you see the January 25 revolution, four years after it broke out?
A: I see that it has not achieved its goal of building a democratic state. The revolution wanted to topple the president and not the regime. And when this happened, there was no clear political vision. There was chaos. Chaos always comes after revolutions.
Q: Has it failed?
A: It is hard to tell now. Maybe in 20 years or so. The French Revolution of 1789 failed for 15 years before it succeeded.
Q: How do you see the situation now after the June 30 revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious fascism, and after more than a year under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi?
A: First, I do not think June 30 was a revolution, nor do I think there was religious fascism.
The remnants of Mubarak’s regime pushed for June 30 with the help of the military machine. This ended democracy for good.
And as to the Brotherhood, it had but unqualified members and some armed militias. And there was a president ruling alone, with the military and all other state institutions standing against him.
Q: But did not all the segments of the Egyptian people come out on that day and not just the remnants of Mubarak’s regime?
A: By the way, I am against the Brotherhood and the religious rule. All what I am saying is that there were methods other than the army’s intervention.
Q: Like what?
A: A general strike, for example.
Q: Did this not happen all over the country? Did the Suez Canal cities not declare rebellion against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood?
A: Still, the intervention of the army was wrong. It gave the world a message that the old regime was back with all its tools, which was reflected in the violence against all opposition and not just the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many of the youth of the revolution were sent to prison. And the state media and the satellite channels make me laugh. Sometimes I wonder if Ibrahim Eissa is really a journalist.
Q: Is it the people’s fault?
A: It is the fact that there was no political movement that drives the people towards a democratic goal.
Q: But it was the people who asked the army for help. Did they not wait three days in the streets for the army to move?
A: People? What people? In France, the supporters of the president are no more than 15 percent, yet the army does not interfere. The normal procedure is the elections. What did the millions who went out on June 30 fear? They are the majority and the Brotherhood is the minority. They could have easily won the elections.
Q: Was the Arab Spring really a spring?
A: I do not like the term Arab Spring. It brought civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria. But I do not deny that there were popular uprisings.
Q: Uprisings or revolutions?
A: They were uprisings because they did not lead to concrete results. There is no political vision, and there are no political parties.
Q: What will happen to Syria?
A: I do not think there is a solution in the near future despite the Russian strikes. I do not know why Russia is interfering. This will result in the United States interfering as well, which will lead to a catastrophe.
Q: How about Yemen?
A: Yemen's is an internal issue. It is not an Iranian plot, as Saudi Arabia claims. The Houthis are different than the Shi'ites than the Iranians. This does not mean that there is no Iranian interference. The issue needs a political solution, not military. They are hitting poor and miserable people.
Q: How can we build a real democracy in Egypt?
A: It will take a long time. But the interference of the controling powers will breed times worse than Nasser’s time.
Q: Do you think Sisi is like Nasser?
A: I do not see people. I see circumstances. Nasser could make decisions like the nationalization of the Suez Canal because circumstances at that time allowed for it.
Today, there is globalization and the power of capital. You need mature economic ideas rather than reminiscing on Nasser’s days.
Q: After more than half a century, do you think Nasser was a step forward?
A: Nasser did many good things, such as national liberation, the elimination of colonialism and the pursuit of establishing a strong national economy.
Q: Do you think the June 1967 defeat ended him?
Q: Is the time for charismatic leaders over?
A: Bertolt Brecht once said there is nothing worse for people than to have charismatic leaders. Yes it is over.
Q: What do you make of the Arab and Egyptian press?
A: There is no community dialogue in the Egyptian newspapers that can stir the political situation. And Egyptian journalists are not independent. They should be.
A: They should not be part of an ideological struggle. For example, I saw demonstrations by the Ultras. The next day the papers said the residents of the neighborhood stood against them. Mind you, the residents did not do anything.
Q: How do you see Egypt’s position internationally?
A: I think things changed after July 3. The French President came to Egypt twice. The world sees Egypt as the gateway to the Middle East.
As to the foreign press, it is not with the Egyptian regime. Mind you, it is not with the Brotherhood either. But Europeans do not like to see journalists and activists imprisoned.
Q: Had you been the president of Egypt, what would you have done in light of terrorism and the economic problems?
A: I think we need to define the term terrorism. The Israelis call the Palestinians terrorists. The Americans under Reagan called the African liberation movements terrorist. So did the West call the Kurds. Terrorism is not a political line. It is a means. It began in Sinai after July 3.
Q: But Sinai was being prepared to be a huge arms store, and there were terrorist operations before July 3. What would you say to that?
A: Maybe just a few.
Q: What would you do if you were president?
A: Whoever seeks to become Egypt’s president is crazy because there are too many problems to solve. I am a journalist, not a president.
Q: Do you think the Americans changed their stance after June 30 or July 3?
A: Yes. I know that you in Egypt think the Americans are the ones who brought the Brotherhood to power. I do not think so. The White House supported Mubarak until the last minute. Then it supported the Muslim Brotherhood because it was the main force in the street, given the weakness of the political parties.
Q: What will happen to the Brotherhood?
A: It has proven that it was stupid and did not have a vision for ruling. Its future depends on how it will handle this.
Q: And what about the Brotherhood's international organization?
A: It holds futile meetings in the capitals of the world, that is all.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm