British writer and journalist David Hirst remembered an early encounter with journalist Eric Rouleau in Egypt shortly after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Many foreign journalists thronged Cairo at the time, but Rouleau “alone got the scoop—the story of the dramatic rupture between President Nasser and Field Marshal Amer, his army commander. . . But it wasn’t just the scoop . . . it was the knowledge, depth, and authority which he brought to the interpretation of it. I was just a beginner then, and he instantly became my model of what a great journalist, writing for a great newspaper, should be.”
Since the mid 1950s Eric Rouleau has been a “great journalist, writing for a great newspaper.” Born in Cairo, Rouleau spent more than three decades as “Grand Reporter” and chief Middle East editorial writer at the French daily, Le Monde. Fluent in English, French, and Arabic and conversant in Hebrew, Rouleau maintained a special entrée into the Arab world, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus, where for more than forty years he followed coups d’état, revolutions, wars, cease fires, armistices, withdrawals, and multiple diplomatic missions designed to bring peace to the Middle East.
Eric Rouleau is not only a journalist. In addition to being a widely read columnist, he has been diplomat, consultant, scholar, teacher, and author. His diplomatic success on a Mitterand-sponsored mission in Libya in 1984 to negotiate troop withdrawal from Chad with President Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi led to his appointment as French ambassador to Tunisia (1985-86). He oversaw French relations with the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat, then located in Tunis. In 1986 he was sent on a confidential mission to Iran to negotiate the liberation of French hostages held in Lebanon. His mission failed, but from 1986 to 1988 Rouleau was ambassador-at-large for President Mitterand and the French government, and from 1988 to 1992, he served as French ambassador to Turkey.
Born in Cairo in 1926, Eric Rouleau was educated in French and English primary and secondary schools in Egypt. He studied at the Faculty of Law at Cairo University and reported for the Egyptian Mail from 1947 to 1950. Installing himself in Paris in December 1951, he enrolled in a course in French literature at the Sorbonne. At age 27 Rouleau began his journalistic career in France as an editor at Agence France Press in Paris and began appearing as a columnist in various newspapers across Europe. From 1955 until 1985 he served as editorial writer and special correspondent for the French daily newspaper Le Monde, covering countries of the Arab world and the region. From 1983 to 1985 he was consultant to the French TV channel TF 1 and appeared frequently on television programs in France and in the United States.
Deeply committed to the Arab world throughout his career, Rouleau covered the history of the Middle East. According to Middle East journalist Jonathan Randal, Rouleau “is in the forefront of journalists who knew and covered the key figures in the rise and fall of Arab nationalism.” His subjects included also the punishing nature of the 1990s embargo of Iraq, the role of the United States in the area, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the meaning of the war on terror, weapons sales, Islam vs. Islam in Iraq, and, always—the Palestinian quest for peace.
Throughout his journalistic career, his editorial acumen and journalistic skills drew him to the West, first as visiting professor at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1974 and later at Princeton University as senior visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. As guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars he researched upcoming books in 1995, and in 1998-99 served as executive director of the Centre for Global Dialogue, a think tank in Nicosia, Cyprus. In 2001 he was again at Princeton University, this time as visiting professor in the Institute for Transregional Studies of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. He also lectured extensively, touring throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
A contributor to the Encyclopedia Universalis, the Larousse Dictionary, and various international journals, Rouleau has authored—in addition to many columns, articles, and editorials—several books, including Dialogue Israel-Palestine with Zvi Elpeleg and Ibrahim Souss (1993), Les Palestiniens, d’une guerre à l’autre (1984), Abu Iyad: un Palestinien sans patrie (My Country, My Homeland) in 1979, Kurt Waldheim: un métier unique au monde (1977), and the coauthored le Troisième combat (The 1967 Arab-Israeli War) in 1967.
Since 1992, while working on a book of memoirs, Eric Rouleau has continued publishing articles in world-wide newspapers and contributing regularly to the Le Monde Diplomatique. He became a member of the sponsoring committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, designed to stop the “perpetuation of the injustice done to the Palestinian people deprived of its fundamental rights.” The tribunal, launched in Brussels, began working in early March 2009.
The range of Rouleau’s approach can be detected in some of the titles of his articles: “Gulf States: Ambivalent Allies; ‘My Country Will not be America’s Gas Pump,’” “Politics in the Name of the Prophet,” “Does ‘Global War on Terror’ Mask a New Imperialism?” “Are the Jews an Invented People?” “The Intricacies of Peace,” and “Arab Nationalism Is a Misnomer.” Rouleau strongly opposed the American invasion of Iraq, and his articles frequently reprimand the United States and other countries for positions taken and for biased attitudes toward Muslims.
In an interview with National Public Radio’s Scott Simon on Denmark’s cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad, Rouleau revealed his global humanitarian empathy and his constant pursuit of broad understanding and tolerance. The Europeans, he said, “expressed absolutely no sympathy for the Muslims . . . because of ignorance.” Pointing out that so many articles written about Islam after 9/11 failed “to distinguish very clearly between Islam, secular Muslims, religious Muslims, extremists, . . . or ‘peaceful extremists,’” he underscored the necessity of explaining to the Muslim world “that we are not anti-Muslim, that we are anti-terrorist” and to explain Islam to the West. Tolerance and depth of understanding pervade his writing.
Eric Rouleau was named Officer of the Legion of Honor (France) and Commander of the Order of Honor (Greece).