Eric Rouleau (1926-2015) enjoyed an extraordinary career as one of the premier international correspondents writing about the Middle East. From 1955 to 1985 he wrote primarily for Paris-based Le Monde. Rouleau was a good friend of MERIP, and contributed articles and reviews to Middle East Report in the early 1980s.
Rouleau, born in Cairo in July 1926 to a Jewish family, began his career as a writer with the Egyptian Gazette in 1943 and was active in the campaign of the National Committee of Workers and Students against the British occupation of Egypt. In an extract from his 2012 memoir he recounted a February 1946 demonstration in what became Tahrir Square. Security forces opened fire, killing 20 and wounding hundreds. “A bullet ended the life of a young student marching beside me,” he wrote. “The scene of this massacre would burn itself into my memory.” After the first Arab-Israeli war erupted in May 1948, Rouleau was arrested in a dragnet that rounded up hundreds. Released on bail but facing “a double conviction for Zionism and communism,” in 1950 he left Egypt, but only on condition of accepting an “exit without return” departure visa, and settled in France.
After first working for Agence France-Presse, he joined Le Monde in 1955 as editorial writer and foreign correspondent. He covered decolonization struggles in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa as well as the Middle East, although for many years Arab countries barred him entry as a Jew. In 1963 he responded to an invitation to interview President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Cairo, and after 1966 was able to visit frequently. Generally supportive of Nasser’s foreign policies and economic and social reforms, he was not silent about the brutal repression of political opponents and denial of civil liberties, and reported on the death under torture of friends from his Cairo years.
MER contributing editor Joel Beinin wrote about Rouleau’s involvement as early as 1970 in attempting to arrange meetings between Egyptian and Israeli leaders in The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry. Beinin concluded that Rouleau’s writings, particularly his reporting on Egypt, “can be regarded as a project of cultural and political translation between his early experiences as an Egyptian-born Jew and his adult professional world of French journalism.”
Rouleau’s formal diplomatic career started when France sent him to Libya to negotiate withdrawal of Libyan forces from Chad. He was France’s ambassador to Tunisia in 1985-1986, ambassador at large from 1986-1988 and ambassador to Turkey from 1988 to 1991. Alain Gresh recounts the first reunion of French ambassadors following Rouleau’s appointment. As each diplomat in turn announced his or her name and posting, it came his turn: “Eric Rouleau, le monde.”