Fahmy vs Egypt: Six Key Moments That Took Mohamed Fahmy From Press To PrisonFrom the moment he took the job, his fate was sealed.
When Al Jazeera offered journalist Mohamed Fahmy a job in 2013, he was already living in Egypt and reporting from Cairo. The Canadian-Egyptian dual citizen was offered the acting bureau chief position at Al Jazeera English (AJE).
Fahmy began working for AJE on September 6, 2013. The Egyptian authorities arrested him on December 29, 2013. On June 23, 2014, a Cairo Criminal Court found Fahmy guilty of numerous charges and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Mohamed Fahmy Half Free, a new documentary delves into the story of Fahmy’s arrest, incarceration and two-year-long battle to be released.
From the start, unbeknownst to Fahmy, his involvement with AJE was riddled with irregularities. These irregularities became the basis for his arrest. Once arrested, the Canadian government’s involvement led to further complications in his case.
Here's a look at six key moments — some that led to Fahmy’s arrest and others that complicated and delayed his release.
1. Fahmy took the job despite warnings about Al Jazeera
By the time Al Jazeera approached Fahmy about a job in Egypt, the news organization’s Arabic channel Mubasher Misr had already been shut down in the country. Fahmy was aware of this particular shutdown.
Al Jazeera was founded by members of the Qatari royal family, who favoured the Muslim Brotherhood. On July 3, 2013, when General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president — Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt’s military also shut down news channels that they saw as sympathetic to Morsi’s party. El-Sisi also banned the Muslim Brotherhood and labelled the party as a terrorist organization.
Despite warnings about the risks of working for Al Jazeera and his own knowledge from being in Cairo at the time, Fahmy decided to take the job. In doing so, the Egyptian government ruled that he became a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group “by default.”
2. Al Jazeera aired his stories on the Arabic channel
When he took the job, Fahmy was assured that the stories he produced for AJE would not be aired on the Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr (AJM) Arabic channel. While the Arabic bureau had been shut down, AJM was still on the air in Egypt.
In late September 2013, Fahmy discovered that his news packages were voiced into Arabic and aired on AJM. When he reached out to AJE Director of News Salah Negm, Negm replied back that he would handle it.
It would later come to light during the trial that the court had ordered AJM to stop broadcasting by September 8, 2013. Airing his news packages on a channel that had been ordered to shut down drew additional attention and scrutiny to Fahmy from the Egyptian government.
3. Al Jazeera operated without proper credentials.
On September 6, 2013, when Fahmy began his tenure at AJE, he was unaware that three days ago the news network and all its channels had been banned from broadcasting from inside Egypt. The court order for this was issued on September 3, 2013. All broadcasts were to cease on September 8, 2013. Fahmy was not informed of any of these legal proceedings when he joined. He first learned these specifics during the trial in 2015 when the prosecutor provided documents in court.
Months later during Fahmy’s trial, it was also revealed that Al Jazeera did not even have the proper credentials to operate as a news organization inside Egypt. Thus, from the day he started work, Fahmy was unknowingly reporting without the proper permissions to do so. When the Egyptian court sentenced him to three years in prison, lack of proper credentials was one of the reasons listed in the ruling.
4. Al Jazeera provided Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers with funds and filming gear
Besides his employer’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliation and operating without credentials, another charge brought against Fahmy was that of using fabricated footage.
Among the numerous people arrested in the case were three college students sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. The three had regularly participated in Muslim Brotherhood protests since former president Mohamed Morsi's ouster. When they were detained, Egyptian authorities found a professional camera and 15,000 Egyptian pounds on them. The students’ detention led to further searches and the discovery of more equipment and money. The Egyptian authorities were able to trace these back to Al Jazeera. The students were accused of providing Fahmy with footage.
While there was no evidence directly linking the three students to Fahmy and both parties testified that they had never met before the trial, Al Jazeera’s involvement in providing funds and filming gear to Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers further strengthened the charge that Fahmy was a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
5. Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept silent
Two other Al Jazeera journalists were arrested along with Fahmy: local producer Baher Mohamed and Australian correspondent Peter Greste. From Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay, there was much condemnation around the world, following the arrests. Abbott even spoke to president El-Sisi for 20 minutes on the sidelines of the 2014 UN General Assembly regarding Greste’s arrest. Whether Abbott’s September meeting had any impact is unknown, but Greste was sent back to Australia five months later.
Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister in 2014, did not make any public condemnation. There were no reports of him reaching out to El-Sisi either. His silence was met with wide criticism. “But dual citizenship has not hindered your government from calling strongly for justice for its citizens in the past,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa division Executive Director for Human Rights Watch. Her letter asking Harper to intervene referenced the 2007 case of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian and Chinese citizen.
6. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird revealed too much
In November 2014, Egypt issued a new decree granting President El-Sissi the power to deport foreign defendants convicted or accused of crimes. The decree stated that convicted prisoners were to continue their sentences or be put on trial upon arriving in their home country. In January 2015, Fahmy and Greste both tried to leverage this decree to seek deportation.
That same month, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was on a visit to Egypt. "In Canada, we would have no basis to put Mr. Fahmy on trial. That would not be an option which would be acceptable to the government of Canada," Baird said at a press conference during the trip.
Greste was successful in his attempt and sent back to Australia a few weeks later. Fahmy’s deportation seemed imminent. But those hopes were dashed when Egyptian authorities announced that Fahmy and his Egyptian colleague Mohamed would face a retrial.
“All the journalists who attended the press conference where Mr. Baird announced that were shocked that he said it,” said Fahmy in an interview after his release. “That immediately kills what the Egyptians were trying to do, which is get rid of me in a face-saving manner.”
Afterwards, Fahmy faced a retrial, waited through multiple verdict delays, and got re-sentenced. He finally walked out of prison following a presidential pardon on September 23, 2015, nearly two years after his arrest.