Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, working for Al Jazeera English in Egypt, was arrested on December 29, 2013 on ungrounded terrorism charges and has been imprisoned ever since. Fahmy’s arrest took place shortly after General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi staged a military coup, overthrowing the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s current government under el-Sisi is virulently against the Muslim Brotherhood and regards the group as a terrorist organization, a view supported by most Western governments. El-Sisi’s government wrongfully accused Fahmy of abusing his position at Al Jazeera to recruit people for the Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorist activities. The Canadian government has failed to take meaningful action and protect its citizen, instead choosing to prioritize favourable diplomatic relations with Egypt.
In June, Fahmy was sentenced to seven years in prison in what was widely regarded as a show trial, as no evidence for the government’s accusation was produced. He is currently being kept in abject conditions. Other Western leaders who also support the undemocratic Egyptian government spoke out: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the results “chilling and draconian,” while UK Prime Minister David Cameron was “completely appalled.” The Canadian government, whose own citizen is being persecuted, passively asked that Egypt “respect the right of individuals, including journalists.”
Despite the government’s conciliatory language, many, including Fahmy and his family, expected the recent visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird to Egypt to resolve the case. While Baird did raise the issue, he also expressed “strong support for the Egyptian government,” and praised its efforts against “the terrorist acts of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Due to this setback, on January 8, even as he acknowledged diplomatic subtleties, Fahmy called directly on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene. To this date, Harper has refused to comment on the case.
The government has weighed the value of a diplomatic relationship and the life of a citizen, and has prioritized the former. This is all the more repugnant when the regime in Egypt it is supporting murders hundreds with impunity. Especially in light of Harper’s supportive statements for press freedom after the Charlie Hebdo murders, the Canadian government is being remarkably selective about its commitment to protecting journalism. Some believe that the apathy toward Fahmy has to do with his dual Egyptian-Canadian citizenship, and this may very well be the case. In a similar case, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, who hold only Canadian citizenship, were charged with terrorist conspiracy by the el-Sisi regime, but the Canadian government lobbied intensely for weeks to secure their release.
All but abandoned by a disinterested government, Fahmy is currently facing the nightmare scenario of living out the next decade of his life in bleak conditions. The Canadian government must fulfill its responsibility by actively pursuing Fahmy’s release; otherwise, it will continue to implicitly condone the punishment. Political expediency is no excuse for not protecting the work of journalists – it is even less of an excuse for abandoning citizens who are unjustly imprisoned.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board