Egypt blocks Mohamed Fahmy’s road to Canada

Jailed Canadian journalist faces retrial, shocking family members who were expecting him to be released, deported to Canada quickly after release of his Australian Al Jazeera colleague, Peter Greste.


One week ago Mohamed Fahmy was preparing for his rapid deportation to Canada, after the release of his Australian Al Jazeera colleague, Peter Greste, from an Egyptian jail.

But Fahmy’s case was mired in an Egyptian justice system that is murky, multi-layered and often unyielding.

On Sunday, the Canadian’s hopes were crushed by an announcement from court officials that instead of deportation, he would face a retrial on Thursday, along with fellow Al Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed.

“He is very angry and doesn’t understand why this happened,” said Fahmy’s brother, Adel, from Cairo.

“He was basically forced by the authorities to give up his (Egyptian) citizenship so he could be deported. Until last night we had assurances from the Canadian ambassador that it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. We are all shocked that this has happened.”

Adel Fahmy added, “We have all done everything to prepare for his release. Mohamed lost his Egyptian citizenship. His fiancée quit her job. I came to Cairo from Kuwait. His parents are old and tired and his mother is in tears.”

Mohamed Fahmy was sentenced to seven years on widely debunked terrorism-linked charges and is now in hospital after unsuccessful surgery on an injured shoulder following months in detention.

“He’s pretty sure he’s locked into a trial now,” said Sue Turton, an Al Jazeera colleague who is in touch with Fahmy, and escaped a 10-year sentence on the same charges by leaving Egypt before she could be arrested. “I think he’s trying to protect himself by not holding out too much hope.”

The potentially dire development left his family shocked, but not entirely surprised.

The past week has been one of mounting anxiety and frustration for Fahmy’s loved ones, Adel said.

For several days they have watched progress on his deportation slowly unravelling. Meanwhile, they made strenuous efforts to move his case forward through a system that is strewn with roadblocks.

Unless Prime Minister Stephen Harper intervenes in Fahmy’s case, Adel said, he fears the worst for his brother.

“The judge for his case is really tough,” said Turton. “He’s a hardliner.”

The case is complicated by Egypt’s deeply divided political scene.

The Al Jazeera journalists were arrested in December 2013 in the aftermath of protests, clashes and a coup against Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Qatar, the network’s owner, was at loggerheads with Egypt over its sympathy for the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood faction. Al Jazeera journalists were accused of spreading lies in collusion with the Brotherhood to undermine Egyptian security.

Although the two countries have since mended fences, suspicion remains.

Al Jazeera is regarded by some Egyptians as a “terrorist sympathizer,” though the three imprisoned journalists belong to its separate English network, and not the Arabic-language, Egypt-focused channel that bore the brunt of Egypt’s criticism and has now been shut down.

The trial of the three men was ridiculed for its outlandish and trumped-up evidence, which blackened Egypt’s reputation.

After months of international diplomacy, and a worldwide outcry, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi passed a law allowing convicted foreigners to be deported for punishment in their own countries.

An appeals court also agreed to a retrial for the three journalists, but they were not granted bail.

Greste was the first to benefit from the deportation law, and expectations for Fahmy were high, while fears were raised for Egyptian colleague Baher Mohamed.

But while Greste’s release prompted former Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird to say that Fahmy’s exit was “imminent,” and his family made preparations for his departure, progress slowed to a halt.

“The law is simple,” said Adel. “The prosecutor needs to sign off (on his deportation), then the prime minister, then the president. With Greste, the prosecutor went through with the process.”

In Fahmy’s case, the president and prime minister appeared ready to sign the deportation order once the prosecutor endorsed it, he added.

As days went by, however, the increasingly anxious family began “knocking on doors” of officialdom to find what had gone wrong.

Egyptian officials warned them that they must “move fast” to get Ottawa’s senior politicians to push for the signature, “or the case would be sent to the court and out of their hands before (Fahmy) could be deported.”

The family believes that the message from Canadian officials in Cairo was not reaching high enough levels in the prosecutor’s office.

Although it is unclear why the prosecutor has dragged his heels on Fahmy’s case, Canadian physician Tarek Loubani, who was also imprisoned by Egypt during the political turmoil in 2013, says Fahmy’s predicament bears echoes of his own case.

“There was a huge conflict between the foreign affairs (ministry) that wanted us out, the interior ministry that wanted us in, and the prosecutor who didn’t want anyone to interfere,” he said.

After Loubani and Toronto filmmaker John Greyson were released from detention, they were barred from leaving the country because the prosecutor initially refused to close their case.

“I think the Canadian government doesn’t appreciate the power it has here,” Loubani said in a phone interview. “That was indicative in our own situation.”

In Ottawa, the Prime Minister’s Office has so far stepped back from Fahmy’s case, referring it to Consular Affairs Minister Lynne Yelich.

In a statement Sunday, Yelich said that she has “continued to raise this government’s concerns regarding Mr. Fahmy’s case at the highest levels with Egyptian officials, and (she) will continue to do so.”

Yelich added, “We remain hopeful that Mr. Fahmy’s case will be resolved in a timely manner.”

But Fahmy’s family said that some Egyptian officials were “shocked that the Canadian prime minister had not intervened yet to expedite matters,” while Australia’s highest office had pushed for Greste’s release.

Human rights groups and Fahmy’s lawyers have called on Harper to take a stand, they said, “but he has failed us immensely.”

Fahmy’s high-profile lawyer, Amal Clooney, had a 40-minute phone call with the Canadian ambassador after the court’s announcement, telling him that more senior levels of government must get involved, Adel said. Clooney will arrive in Cairo shortly.

Meanwhile, the case is scheduled for retrial on Thursday, a prospect that the family says “represents our worst nightmare.”