French, Egyptian journalists held in café for discussing politics

French journalist and Chief Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Alain Gresh was held for two hours on Tuesday, along with two Egyptian journalists, in a downtown café after they were overheard discussing politics.

“I was sitting with an Egyptian journalist and an Egyptian student speaking in English and Arabic when a woman listening to our conversation screamed at us, saying ‘you will destroy the country’,” Gresh told Mada Masr.

The woman then stepped outside the café and proceeded to talk with security forces, who came and interrogated Gresh on his reasons for being in Egypt.

“They took my passport and IDs from the journalists, before returning 30 minutes later with my passport, saying they would hold on to the IDs,” he said. “Then they asked if I have a work permit that allows me to work in Egypt.”

The security forces told Gresh he was free to go, but he refused to leave until his colleagues were allowed to go with him. All three were released two hours later.

Gresh expressed surprise at how easily one can be arrested and turned over to the police, adding that he knows full well how difficult it is for journalists to practice, but that today he learnt so first hand.

According to Mostafa Bassiouny, a journalist and friend of Gresh’s who was following the issue, members of the Journalists Syndicate and the National Council for Human Rights spoke with the head of the Qasr al-Nil Police Station, who told them that the woman at the café had overheard Gresh and the two women discussing politics, so she reported them to the police.

Gresh, 66 years old, was born in Cairo and left at the age of 14 in 1962. He is considered one of the most prominent journalists specialized in the Middle East, and has visited Egypt frequently since 1972.