Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a low-profile phone call last week with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to discuss the case of Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian government official says.
The phone call, which took place last Thursday, appears to be the first time Mr. Harper has addressed the matter with the Egyptian president by phone. Mr. Harper has faced significant pressure in recent weeks to intervene on Mr. Fahmy's behalf as his case continued to drag through the Egyptian courts.
Mr. Fahmy is due back in a Cairo court on Sunday for the next stage in his retrial. The former Cairo bureau chief for Al Jazeera spent more than a year in detention on charges of "spreading false news" to support the banned Muslim Brotherhood before the original conviction was thrown out.
A spokesman for Mr. Harper would not confirm the phone call had taken place when asked about the matter on Friday. "As we've said before, the Prime Minister has personally raised the case of Mohamed Fahmy with the Egyptian President," Carl Vallée wrote in an e-mail.
"Canadian officials have raised the case of Mohamed Fahmy with Egyptian officials at all levels for some time, and we will continue to do so. We are optimistic it will be resolved."
Opposition MPs have repeatedly asked Mr. Harper during Question Period if he had spoken by phone with the Egyptian president about the case but he has so far declined to answer their questions directly. The House of Commons was not sitting this week.
An Egyptian government official said the Prime Minister's Office reached out to Cairo last Tuesday to initiate a call specifically regarding Mr. Fahmy's court case. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the call took place last Thursday.
Two days later, Mr. el-Sissi commented in an interview that he would use his presidential powers to pardon the Al Jazeera journalists once the retrial has concluded, according to an Egyptian newspaper. He said he would not intervene before that time out of respect for the country's judiciary.
It is unclear whether Mr. el-Sissi's comments are connected in any way to the phone call with the Prime Minister.
Neither the Egyptian government nor the Canadian government have publicly acknowledged the phone call. The Egyptian embassy in Ottawa told a reporter Friday afternoon that no one was immediately available to comment on the case.
Mr. Fahmy became Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief in September 2013 and was arrested three months later with two of his colleagues, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Australian reporter Peter Greste.
Mr. Greste was released earlier this year under a new decree that allows the president to deport foreigners who are accused or convicted of a crime in Egypt. Mr. Fahmy, who held dual Canadian and Egyptian citizenship when he was arrested, gave up his Egyptian status in the hopes that he, too, would be deported. However, neither he nor Mr. Mohamed have been allowed to leave Egypt.