Skip to main content

Al-Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, center, producer Baher Mohamed, center left, and correspondent Peter Greste, second right, stand in a courtroom along with several other defendants during their trial on terror charges, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, March 31, 2014.Sarah El Deeb/The Associated Press

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy says he and his Al Jazeera colleagues were jailed by Egypt because authorities wanted to "teach Qatar a lesson" for its support of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Fahmy made the comments in a speech he prepared from prison for an annual gala hosted by the organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Excerpts of the speech were read aloud during the Wednesday night event and the complete text was provided to The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Fahmy, who holds Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, was convicted earlier this year on charges related to conspiring with the recently ousted Muslim Brotherhood to spread false news. Both he and Australian journalist Peter Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while their Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, was sentenced to 10 years.

Their trial was widely denounced by Western governments and human-rights groups, who decried the lack of evidence that was presented and have called for their release.

In the text of his speech, Mr. Fahmy argues that the Al Jazeera arrests and subsequent verdicts were the result of the deep political tensions between the governments of Egypt and Qatar. After the Egyptian military overthrew the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013, Qatar allowed some of the group's leaders to seek refuge within its borders.

"Egypt decided to teach Qatar a lesson for continuing to support the Muslim Brotherhood," Mr. Fahmy wrote. He said authorities in Egypt punished the three Al Jazeera journalists as a form of "score-settling" with Qatar, where Al Jazeera operations are based.

"We are victims of a real ongoing cold war between Egypt and Qatar, the oil-rich Gulf state that gave birth to the Al Jazeera network back in 1996," Mr. Fahmy wrote in the speech.

Recent developments however, suggest tensions between the two countries may be cooling. For example, Qatar has asked the Muslim Brotherhood leaders it had accepted to leave the country in an effort to improve relations with its neighbours in the region, including Egypt.

During a recent interview with a French television news program, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said presidential pardons are under consideration for the journalists "to find a solution" to their situation. The President's comments raised hope for Mr. Fahmy's family, which has hired renowned lawyer Amal Clooney to represent him.

Mr. el-Sissi had previously commented that he would have preferred to see the journalists deported after their arrest rather than tried in court. He also issued a decree last month that would allow him to deport foreign prisoners.

It is not clear how the decree might apply to Mr. Fahmy, however, because he holds citizenship in Egypt as well as Canada.

A spokesman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs said Mr. Fahmy's case has been raised by the ministers for foreign and consular affairs and would continue to be.

"Canadian officials are providing consular assistance to Mr. Fahmy and working with senior Egyptian officials to ensure his well-being," John Babcock said.

Mr. Fahmy noted in the speech that he hopes to launch a wider discussion in Canada about how to support dual citizens who are detained abroad. He said he is blessed to have citizenship in both Canada and Egypt, and doesn't like to believe that that affected Ottawa's response to his situation.

"In Canada's defence, I am convinced that bullhorn diplomacy and arm-twisting diplomatic rhetoric applied by other governments would not help in my highly complicated political case," Mr. Fahmy wrote. "This approach may even be counterproductive when dealing with the Egyptian government and its military junta."

However, he said there are "essential lessons" Ottawa can learn from the crisis. "I am not finger-pointing but I intend to start a debate in regards to certain shortcomings in a constructive manner upon my release to ensure Canadian citizens caught up in prisons abroad get more effective and swifter support."

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct