Iasonas Athanasiadis, reporting the failure of the North African revolutions

Gamal Abdel Nasser(centre) train on shooting in Alexandria in early 1950s
Gamal Abdel Nasser(centre) train on shooting in Alexandria in early 1950s Flickr © Zeinab Mohamed

Iasonas Athanasiadis, ‘combing’ the Greater Middle East with his camera, is one of the few Greek journalists, who explicitly and penetratingly document the events in Lybia, Egypt, Iran and Afghanistan. Someone will wonder how far are the revolutions in Lybia and Egypt from being successful?




You have recently been to Lybia. Were there any positive changes in the post-Gaddafi era?

The Lybians did not take advantage of the two years following their revolution. The government harked back to the old bad habits of giving money to the common people, while armed groups and crime flared up (these facts have disappeared during Gaddafi’s dictatorship). The government’s inability to impose safety and development, even in the capital city, led to separatist movements in the east and the south of the country. It seems that a critical mass of Lybians did not understand that freedom provided by the dictator does not mean the same as the absolute freedom to do whatever they want to. At the same time, there is a strong growth of the political Islam, in schools, Ministries and riot police. Many Lybians went to fight in Syria believing that it constitutes a religious duty and several were killed there or as they perceive themselves, they ‘were martyred’.


Has the role of religion changed regarding the national life in Libya?

There is no public dialogue regarding the role of religion in the new state, simply because Islam is considered to be a totalitarian faith embracing every aspect of daily life, so these elements cannot be separated. During the last year’s parliamentary elections, the most extreme adjective that one could attach to a politician was ‘secular’ which is perceived as ‘atheist’ (only because being an atheist in Islam is punishable by death, it is impossible for a person to utter this word in public).


What do we really watch on our screens concerning Egypt?

What is happening on our screens these days is a logical consequence in a conservative society whose people have been under the yoke of a cognitive dissonance for many generations to which religion, society and political elite contributed. So this society has no more taboos and begins a process of facing the indisputable truth. It realizes that there are huge differences among the different members of a society instead of a supposedly unique and indivisible truth which is held by one group. 

This revolution was incomplete, as the Egyptians were proved to be shortsighted. Instead of realizing that they had simply drawn away a leader (Mubarak was in the Air Force) they embraced the army without having decapitated the system he was serving


You experienced Egypt immediately after September 11th 2001 during Mubarak’s presidency. What has really changed after 12 years?

I left Egypt with a great relief after September 11th because of the deadlock at which the local society and culture has reached. I assumed that Egypt would no longer be on the news, not only due to its own stagnancy but also due to the series of events in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so it happened, until 2011 when Mubarak fell. However, this revolution was incomplete, as the Egyptians were proved to be shortsighted. Instead of realizing that they had simply drawn away a leader (Mubarak was in the Air Force) they embraced the army without having decapitated the system he was serving.


Now, does it come the hard part for Egypt?

So, charades that had been made up by state, religious authorities and people themselves so as things to get easier, are over. Now these people have a lot of theoretical and practical deconstruction to do. Just to mention that the Egyptians are much greater in number than the natural resources offered by the Nile valley under the actual agricultural conditions. Let's hope that they will be less violent as it gets. Certainly, all these can describe another society very well; much closer to us than Egypt.


In 2009 you were arrested by the Iranian authorities accused of spying. In a few days elections are held in Iran. What is Ahmadinejad’s political legacy?

Rohani’s election, even though it was a surprise, it is probably the justification of the reformers’ Green Movement who got out in the streets after the 2009 elections when their own candidate was not elected. At any rate, Ahmadinejad served as president of Iran during a tough period of tension and menace in the east and the west of the country due to the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years after, the financial pressures that are put on the Western sanctions have been increased. However, the American soldiers have been reduced by far, as well as the danger of a war between Iran and the U.S.A.


What are the new dangers about Iran?

 Iran has been absorbed by a hazardous stand-off against the Arab Sunni fundamentalists in Syria, which along with the Libanese Hizbullah, supports Assad’s government. A Sunni Westernizer arc consisted of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, neo- Ottoman Turkey and Libyan Islamists, pointed their guns and manpower at Syria, having thrown off their own dictator with the help of NATO. Generally, the area has been a mess and the situation is expected to get worse. As for me, the election of a much more reformer president means that a return to my beloved Iran is more probable, without being afraid that the government will try to play propagandistic games with me as they did in 2009.


There have been important changes in the broader Mediterranean region (Egypt, Syria, Libya and so on). Greece being in crisis, do you see that there is something new or will we insist on violent policies of frugality?

I see a new creativity in Greece; during my childhood it has been suffocated into the respectability of an era when the ultimate aim of the ordinary people was to be given a position in the public sector. Now, raging waves of history and globalization are approaching, demolishing the providence of the state and renouncing the belief that the quality of life will be getting better in every generation. At this moment, we probably know that -not only in Greece but in the whole world- tomorrow will be even more difficult, terrifying and dependent on survival than the sharpening of our abilities.

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