Fahmy family pinning hopes on Baird, official urges tempered expectations

The family of an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo is hoping that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s visit to the city on Thursday will mark “the finale” to Mohamed Fahmy’s quest for freedom.

The family of an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo is hoping that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s visit to the city on Thursday will mark “the finale” to Mohamed Fahmy’s quest for freedom.

But a government official in Ottawa was tempering expectations Wednesday that Baird’s visit would immediately trigger Fahmy’s release.

Fahmy has spent more than a year in prison after he and two colleagues were arrested while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English. After a trial widely denounced as a sham, the trio were convicted on terror-related charges they vehemently deny.

Baird’s visit to Cairo comes at a sensitive time — a retrial was ordered this month for Fahmy and his colleagues, and Egypt’s president has announced a new decree that gives him the power to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes.

Those factors have given Fahmy and his family hope that they will soon be able to return to their home in Montreal.

“I believe Mr. Baird’s visit should be the finale,” Fahmy’s brother Adel told The Canadian Press in an interview. “We are genuinely hoping that he reaches a resolution and announces that Mohamed will be deported to Canada.”

Baird will be meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry on Thursday, where he is expected to raise Fahmy’s case, after which the two will participate in a news conference.

It is there that Fahmy’s family hopes for some indication that their ordeal is nearing an end.

“We have received signals and confirmation from both Canadian and Egyptian senior officials that the deportation process is in its final stages,” said Fahmy’s brother. “So we expect that these final stages are concluded.”

But a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Canadian Press that things may not proceed quite that quickly.

“We’re not expecting necessarily that (Baird) is going to announce the release or anything like that when he’s there,” said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Baird’s two-day trip to Egypt, the official stressed, is part of the country’s regular engagement with Egypt “writ large.”

It remains unclear just how Fahmy’s deportation process might play out in practical terms. If he is deported as a convicted criminal under Egyptian law, it’s not known when he will become a free man in Canada. But his family is staying positive.

“The Egyptians may provide to the Canadians information on how they want to handle this,” Fahmy’s brother said.

“The law is very clear that if this person is not a threat to national security, then he could be deported, tried or finish his sentence at any time of the judicial process.”

Fahmy himself is tense but optimistic, his family said.

“He’s anxious but he’s very hopeful,” his brother said. “He’s just ready to go, basically.”

On Wednesday, Baird was in the tourist city of Luxor, where he met with young Egyptians to discuss the country’s future and announced $20 million worth of funding to “support to encourage economic growth and empower women and young people in Egypt,” said a statement released by his office in Ottawa.

The official told The Canadian Press that the funding announcement was part of planned engagement with Egypt and should not be viewed as any kind of quid-pro-quo to help win Fahmy’s release.

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