Freed journalist Mohamed Fahmy cannot wait to return to Canada to thank those whose advocacy he says helped him secure the pardon granted Wednesday by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
"I really... can't wait to show my wife what Canada's all about. I mean, I've been talking about this, about back home, for years now and what sort of life we have there and the freedom we have," Fahmy told CBC News. "For the first time since my arrest, I feel like I am a normal free person with a load off my chest."
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In August, Fahmy lost his second trial on widely denounced terrorism charges connected to his work for Al-Jazeera's English network. He faced a three-year sentence after already having spent more than 400 days in prison.
But Wednesday, the warden told him to pack his belongings and police inexplicably dropped Fahmy off in a Cairo suburb still wearing his prison uniform.
"They literally put us in a truck and took us to this location and left us on the street with no money, no mobile phones," he told CBC News. "We were told that [we] can now go home ... It was unbelievable."
Fahmy said he would celebrate Wednesday night with a cold beer and begin working on plans for a return to Canada.
The Eid holiday starting Thursday, however, will essentially shut Egypt down for four days, delaying Fahmy's departure as he works to get his name removed from the travel ban list. But once that happens, Fahmy said he intends to fly to Vancouver and begin a teaching position at the University of British Columbia.
'Best birthday gift ever'
Fahmy's release comes one day after his wife, Marwa Omara, celebrated her birthday alone.
Then she got the belated pleasure of telling her husband about his pardon while she was visiting him in prison Wednesday morning. Omara had been leaving the facility at the end of their time together when she saw the news of the pardon on television, so she asked the guards to bring Fahmy back.
"Once I told him, he was so happy. He was ... thanking God and he was really smiling," she said. "I think today, with this big, great news, this is the best birthday gift ever."
'The nightmare is officially over'
Fahmy's brother, Adel Fahmy, said from Kuwait, that news of the pardon left his family speechless.
"It's really amazing to feel that the nightmare is officially over — the nightmare we've endured since December 2013."
Fahmy acknowledged the toll his imprisonment took on his family, saying the separation was painful on both sides.
"The families are outside of the prison [and] don't know what's happening in the cell," he said. "So, to them, every single night is a nightmare," he said. "For us, inside, we sort of start coping and getting through a routine to protect ourselves and to survive."
Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said he was "pleased" with the news and thanked Canadian consular officials for working hard on the case.
"This has been a priority of the government, and we have continued on that," he said at a Conservative campaign stop in Etobicoke, Ont. "In my conversation with the Egyptian foreign minister a couple of weeks ago, I was both optimistic and encouraged by the comments he made."
Canada will help to facilitate Fahmy's departure from Egypt, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said earlier in the day.
Amal Clooney, Fahmy's international lawyer, expressed gratitude to the Egyptian president "for exercising his power to pardon the two journalists."
"This is a historic day in Egypt where the government has finally corrected a longstanding injustice, and set two innocent men free," she said in a statement.
Fahmy himself vowed to use his own situation to start a discussion about how best to help those imprisoned abroad.
"Other Canadians, innocent Canadians, could be in my similar situation tomorrow morning."
Fahmy also thanked Canadians who had petitioned for his release, saying their voices, combined with the work of his lawyers and free press advocates, helped to secure his pardon.
"I would like to thank all the Canadians ... who have united behind my cause and called for my freedom, because this pardon did not just happen like that," he said. "I was told that Canada really stood up for me."
He thanked federal Liberal and NDP leaders Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair for speaking regularly with his family, saying that "uplifted his spirits" in prison.
100 people released
Fahmy was among 100 prisoners who were pardoned and ordered released today, Egypt's state-run MENA news agency said.
He was convicted at a second trial alongside Al-Jazeera colleagues Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste on Aug. 29 of operating without a press licence and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt. The ruling concluded the three men were members by default of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization, which Egypt considers a terrorist group.
The three journalists were originally detained in December 2013, while working in Cairo for Al-Jazeera's English network, on the terror charges. They were convicted in June 2014 at their first trial and and spent more than a year in prison.
In January 2015, an Egyptian court ordered a retrial of the three men. Greste was subsequently released and deported in February to his native Australia before the second trial began, while Fahmy and Mohamed were granted bail.