Among the various foreign-language presses that have appeared in Egypt over the past few centuries, the francophone press has a special status, given that its titles were the most numerous and also the most varied.
In 1798, the expedition to Egypt took, on two of its ships, the Oriental and French printing-press – the future Imprimerie Nationale – under the aegis of the Orientalist Jean-Joseph Marcel and of the printer Joseph-Emmanuel Marc-Aurel. It then followed the campaign as the “army’s printing-shop”. Initially conceived as an instrument for propaganda for Bonaparte’s projects – the publication of the Army Proclamations of 22nd June and 2nd July 1798 in Arabic – the setting-up of these presses in Alexandria, and then Cairo, led to the birth of the francophone press in Egypt. So it was that the editorship of the first two francophone periodicals in Egypt – Le Cour(r)ier de l’Égypte, a paper that aimed to be “the official monitor of the French colony”, and La Décade Égyptienne, a scientific review run by members of the Institut d’Égypte – was entrusted successively to J.-E. Marc-Aurel and J.-J. Marcel.
J.-J. Luthi, the author of Lire la presse d’expression française en Égypte (Paris, 2009), the first genuine synthesis of this subject, has listed 705 titles that appeared, mainly in Alexandria and Cairo, but also in Mansura in the Delta or in the towns of the Suez Canal. Some of these titles had only fleeting existences, while others appeared for several decades, over a period running from the late 18th century to the early 21st century. Only two newspapers are still published in French in Egypt: Le Progrès Égyptien, founded in 1893, and Al-Ahram Hebdo launched in 1994 by the publishers of the Arab-language daily Al-Ahram.
This press consisted of daily and weekly papers covering news stories, trade and finance, satirical publications, reviews with legal, medical, historical (Revue d’Égypte), scientific (Bulletin de l’Institut Égyptien), feminist (L’Égyptienne, Le Phoenix), literary (Isis), cultural or even high-society subjects, communitarian periodicals, or else the internal bulletins of francophone schools and associations.
In many cases, these publications were bilingual, associating French with Arabic, Italian, English (L’Égypte contemporaine), Greek, or else Hebrew, and were sometimes trilingual or even quadrilingual.
The francophone press in Egypt comes overly primarily as being supranational, as much in its readership as in its journalists, who came from all sorts of origins. While several of its titles may have had a French or a francophone Egyptian basis, they also represented other nationalities (La Semaine égyptienne by the Greek St. Stavrinos or Images by the Zaidan brothers, of Syrian-Lebanese descent…). It thus stood out from the other foreign-language presses of Egypt thanks to its polymorphous nature. By bringing together such varied publications, it could in turns be supranational, inter-communitarian, nationalist or intra-communitarian.