Formerly imprisoned journalist Mohamed Fahmy spoke at Ryerson University Tuesday morning, coming down hard on the Canadian government for how they handled his case.
Speaking at the Rogers Communications Centre, Fahmy, who is Canadian, said the government didn’t seem to understand the urgency of his situation. He said he felt “abandoned” and “betrayed” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Fahmy, the former Cairo bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, spent almost two years behind bars in an Egyptian prison facing terrorism charges along with two colleagues. He was finally released and pardoned on Sept. 23 by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Fahmy said that Harper initially delegated his case to officials who didn’t have the clout to get the Egyptian president’s attention. These officials then negotiated with junior ministers in Egypt who also didn’t have the proper influence.
“The message is lost by the time it gets to the president,” he said.
“This case should be a lesson to many governments about intervention at higher levels.”
Fahmy did note, however, that he was helped by Canadian diplomats on the ground in Egypt.
Tuesday’s appearance was organized by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, who advocated for Fahmy’s release during his ordeal. This was the first Canadian news conference for Fahmy after his release.
Fahmy returned to Canada this weekend, meeting with Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau on Thanksgiving Monday. He also has plans to meet with NDP leader Tom Mulcair on Tuesday.
Despite his strong condemnation towards the Harper government, Fahmy noted that he wouldn’t be making any political endorsements in advance of next Monday’s federal election.
After many bumps in the release process over the last year, Fahmy believes he was finally pardoned last month after a “collective effort” from the media, the public and his lawyers. It was also an opportunity for the Egyptian regime, he noted.
“President al-Sisi also wanted to present an image: that he was revisiting the human rights file, the press freedom file,” Fahmy said.
At Tuesday’s conference, Fahmy acknowledged that he had filed a lawsuit against his former employer, Al Jazeera. He believes the Qatar-based news outlet put his safety at risk.
Fahmy only learned after his imprisonment that Al Jazeera didn’t have the proper Egyptian broadcast permits. He claims the outlet had also been dubbing his English reports to Arabic and were broadcasting them on an illegal network that Egyptian officials believed was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“There is no doubt Al Jazeera endangered me and my team on the ground,” he said.
Several times during the press conference Fahmy thanked the Canadian public for its support while he was behind bars — whether it was through government lobbying, petitions, or social media.
He said there was a “beautiful unity” behind his cause.
“If you ever doubt these campaigns make a difference, I’m living proof that they do,” he said.
At the end of the press conference, Fahmy’s wife, Marwa Omara, took the microphone, telling the room she was happy to finally be in Canada.
“All I’m looking for right now is to have a normal life.”