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Mohamed Fahmy 'shocked' to hear that Harper called Egyptian president to secure his release

Canadian journalist says he and his family were 'clinging on to any hope' while he was detained.

Canadian journalist says he and his family were 'clinging on to any hope' while he was detained

Mohamed Fahmy talks to CBC's Andrew Chang about coming home to Canada

7 years ago
Duration 4:40
Mohamed Fahmy is about to start a new chapter in his life. He speaks with CBC's Andrew Chang after arriving in Vancouver.

Mohamed Fahmy, the former Al Jazeera journalist who spent almost two years in an Egyptian prison on charges of spreading false news, says he was surprised to hear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper phoned the Egyptian president to secure his release. 

Fahmy has repeatedly criticized the Canadian government for not doing enough to support him while he was in prison.

He was eventually pardoned in September, and arrived in Vancouver Thursday night. He says he intends to settle down in the city where he's now an adjunct professor at UBC's School of Journalism

The Canadian journalist spoke with On The Coast's Stephen Quinn about his experience. (You can also watch his interview with CBC Vancouver's Andrew Chang in the video above.)

You have been critical of Stephen Harper for essentially washing his hands of your case when intervention was most needed. Did Mr. Harper not speak with President Sisi and send several letters on your behalf earlier this year?

I'm very grateful for Ottawa's effort and I joined the international chorus that was criticizing Mr. Harper's mild approach — at the end. I agreed, in the beginning, that bullhorn diplomacy was not the way to go, and that was what Mr. John Baird and Mr. Harper had announced.

But then the case got very complicated and it became very obvious that we needed the highest leader in our country to call the Egyptian president.

Mohamed Fahmy joined On The Coast's Stephen Quinn in studio to talk about his release from an Egyptian prison after two years behind bars. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Unfortunately, Mr. Harper did not understand the urgency of the situation the way others did. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and CJFE wrote open letters to Harper saying, 'You need to make that phone call.' Also, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau wrote open letters and questioned Mr. Harper in parliament about his mild approach. 

I'm very shocked that only now, days before the election, Mr. Harper and his team are announcing that he did call the president. If he did, then he didn't tell us. That's very brutal. Because my mom, and me, and my wife, were clinging on to any hope. And if he did, that would have helped us.

Should the Canadian government have known immediately that the charges you were facing were nonsense?

It was very obvious. We were charged with conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group, spreading false news, operating without proper licenses.

In that courtroom, there were ambassadors from many countries — Holland, the United States. Obama spoke out against the charges, and the UN. There was an international outcry against this whole case because it was a bogus case. And the Canadians knew that and the ambassadors there knew that.

But I believe Mr. Harper delegated his responsibilities to the very kind ambassador and the very kind junior minister, who tried their best. This is very important for other Canadians who may be in a similar situation like mine in the future. So let's try to make things a little bit different and  better — to help our fellow Canadians.

Race and the niqab have become an issue during this election — what do you think about what you've seen during this election campaign?

I think it's a very fierce and exciting campaign, and I'm so proud to be here to witness it. I've been working in the Middle East for 16 years — covering Syria, Iraq, Libya — that's a democracy I was hoping to see, and it's not there.

I'm excited to see it here. But I think using the niqab, and race, is a cheap shot. Because you should not be aiming at the emotions of the voters and using such methods that are unacceptable.

I think there should be a more transparent approach. And I think Canada is ready for change.

This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Mohamed Fahmy talks about his struggle to be released from an Egyptian prison.