My brother has been sentenced to spend seven years in an Egyptian prison for committing the crime of telling the truth. Our mother is heartbroken. She doesn’t know if she will live to see her son again.
Mohamed Fahmy is a Canadian journalist for Al Jazeera who reported on the Cairo protests, and now he and his colleagues are trapped. But while other world leaders have fiercely condemned the verdict, Ottawa has been almost mute.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a direct, public appeal to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to release Australian journalist Peter Greste. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was completely appalled and immediately summoned the Egyptian ambassador.
The pressure from politicians, citizens and media across the world is working. Last week, Mr. el-Sissi said he would rather they had been deported, not imprisoned. Now is the moment for the Canadian government to make its voice heard publicly. But its excuse for saying next to nothing is that “Egypt is a sovereign state … we don’t want to insult them.” That is hard to swallow given the horrific conditions my brother endures every day.
On Monday, Foreign Minister John Baird called his Egyptian counterpart to discuss the crisis in Gaza, and reportedly mentioned my brother’s case.
My family wants him to make a call specifically to push for Mohamed’s release. That – or indeed, any public statement whatsoever – would have been more valuable after the sentencing two weeks ago, or any time in the past 200 days. But it’s not too late.
Canada must never allow political concerns to get in the way of our duty to protect our citizens from injustice. We have seen how our government has fought for other citizens to be freed. But for Mohamed, it has been different.
Our family moved from Egypt to Montreal 25 years ago when Mohamed, my oldest brother, was 14. The city became our home and held our fondest memories. “Moody,” as everyone called him, was a talented kid. He studied at La Salle College and graduated from City University in Vancouver before launching into a career in journalism, working in Iraq for the Los Angeles Times, in northern Lebanon with the ICRC, and Egypt for the BBC and CNN. He won major awards for his work and has written two books.
His big break came in September, 2013, when he joined Al Jazeera English as Cairo bureau chief. Three months later, Mohamed was detained on absurd charges of helping a “terrorist organization,” the Muslim Brotherhood, by publishing “lies” that “harmed the national interest.” The charges had nothing to do with Mohamed, who is the innocent victim in a fight between Qatari-owned Al Jazeera and the Egyptian government.
This has been the most difficult time in our lives for my family. I can’t recall a time Mohamed wasn’t there for all of us. The pain of watching helplessly as your brother is locked up without justification is something any Canadian would shudder at. But we never expected our own government to stay silent.
Together with the global civic movement Avaaz, I’ve launched a campaign calling for the Canadian government to do more to publicly pressure the Egyptian authorities to release Mohamed, who has been detained for 200 days as of Wednesday. Already, more than 46,000 Canadians have signed, demanding urgent action.
We will continue the fight. I believe that Canada is a powerful country and holds several cards that could help pressure the Egyptian government to release my brother. Now is the time for Canada to fight for one of its own.