At last, there is some hope that the Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, may be allowed to leave the country. Remarks by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi are encouraging; he now says he would have preferred to have Mr. Fahmy and his two colleagues at Al Jazeera deported when they were first arrested – at the end of December – rather than prosecuted.
There can be no doubt that President el-Sissi is in a position to cause Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues to be released and sent out of Egypt. The sooner, the better. They have been jailed in grim conditions for more than six months, having been charged, prosecuted and convicted of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports of civil strife – a preposterous accusation. What they have really been charged and convicted of is doing journalism, and in particular of committing journalism for one of a long list of media organizations disliked by the increasingly dictatorial and paranoid Egyptian authorities.
President el-Sissi expressed a degree of candour when he said the verdicts have had “very negative consequences” for Egypt. That should have been obvious and expected in the first place.
The Egyptian authorities have been foolish to try to pay off a score against the rulers of Qatar – who have been sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, and who also fund the Al Jazeera news service – by their cruel treatment of professional journalists working in Egypt.
It may be a long time before Canadians learn whether our government has had any role in achieving this progress for Mr. Fahmy (who holds both Egyptian and Canadian citizenship) through quiet diplomacy, or whether Mr. el-Sissi and his government have finally realized on their own how this absurd trial and conviction has damaged their regime’s already dim international reputation.
Much is unknown, one thing is certain: Mr. Fahmy should be freed and returned to Canada, forthwith.