Through his darkest days in a Cairo prison, the thought of returning to Canada was what kept Mohamed Fahmy going.
Now out on bail, but still on trial for terror-related charges many have called ridiculous, the Canadian journalist continues to focus on the idea of a fresh start.
“What’s driving me is that I have this vision of finally landing in Canada. Just being a free man that will not worry about anything,” Fahmy said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Even though I’m released now — I’m much calmer and happier — I really crave that final destination where I’m a truly free man.”
Fahmy’s day-to-day existence has improved considerably ever since he was allowed to walk out of a local police station on bail last Friday, but the 40-year-old emphasized that his ordeal continues.
He lives in what he calls a “legal limbo” — he hasn’t a single piece of identification, has to report to authorities daily, and will be returning to a Cairo courtroom on Monday for the resumption of his trial, where he will once more enter a cage in which prisoners are held.
“This struggle and this case is far from being over,” Fahmy said, adding he was extremely grateful for the support he has received from Canadians ever since his arrest.
“I need that support to continue in order to show the Egyptian government that I have not been forgotten.”
Fahmy and two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when they were arrested in December 2013. They were accused of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security.
They were convicted last summer after a trial that was heavily criticized by human rights organizations. Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohamed received ten.
A successful appeal in early January resulted in a retrial being ordered, though Fahmy hoped diplomatic efforts would set him free before he had to face a judge again.
Greste then suddenly left the country under a new law that allows foreigners convicted of crimes to be deported.
Fahmy hoped to follow, giving up his dual Egyptian citizenship for what he thought was a condition to be deported, and was certain he’d be returning to Canada after then foreign affairs minister John Baird said his release was “imminent.”
“It started a domino effect,” Fahmy said of Baird’s comment. “The Arabic stations picked up on that comment and started reporting that Fahmy will be released in a matter of hours…The Canadian Embassy staff on the ground started informing my family that it’s happening.”
It was a crushing blow when the date for Fahmy’s retrial was then announced while he remained in prison.
“It was devastating,” he said. “It was really, really one of the most challenging moments.”
Leaving the country under Egypt’s deportation law, however, remains Fahmy’s biggest hope.
“It could be executed at any time in the judicial process,” he explained. “That is very essential for me because, there is no guarantee that this trial will end any time soon.”
The Canadian government hasn’t provided any “convincing explanation” on why Fahmy hasn’t been deported like his Australian colleague, he said. Egyptian authorities have told his family, however, that Canada hasn’t been exerting enough pressure.
“The Canadians say in their diplomatic rhetoric ’we’re speaking to the highest levels.’ Well the highest levels in the presidency does not mean the president,” he said.“Egyptian officials have been telling us that the Australians are much more aggressive, better communicators, less diplomatic boundaries.”
Fahmy also knows, however, that a diplomatic push by the Canadian government is his best chance at freedom.
He hopes Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular takes a more “aggressive approach” towards his case, noting that it could set a precedent for other Canadians who get imprisoned in the Middle East.
“This is not just about me as a Canadian citizen. It’s about all Canadians,” Fahmy said. “This is a chance, with the spotlight on this case, for Canada to send a message to all the leaders in the area that you cannot serve Canadian citizens that sort of injustice.”
Harper has said the Canadian government has been in contact with Egyptian authorities “at all levels” on Fahmy’s case, including his level, and said he was “optimistic” the case would be resolved.