Freed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is enjoying life outside of prison, planning for his return to Canada and finally leaving behind a legal saga that had put his life on hold for nearly two years.
"We are decompressing, revitalizing ourselves; we are planning for the future," Mr. Fahmy said in an interview with The Globe and Mail from the Cairo apartment he shares with his wife, Marwa Omara. "I missed Marwa's birthday, which was a couple of days ago, so tonight we are going to go celebrate.
"I promised her she has a carte blanche for anything she wants to go shopping for, she can have it; anything you want is yours," he laughed.
Mr. Fahmy, the former Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English, and his Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were among 100 prisoners ordered released on Wednesday in a pardon by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Last month, Mr. Fahmy and his colleague, who had been out on bail, were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of operating without licences and broadcasting false news.
"We were shocked, we were hugging, we were literally doing a dance," Mr. Fahmy said of the moment he and Mr. Mohamed learned from a television in their cell in Cairo's Mazraa prison that they were pardoned. Police took the two men – along with Shadi Ibrahim, a student sentenced in the case and also pardoned – and dropped them in their prison suits on a street outside Mr. Fahmy's old school.
"Suddenly you are in the street, even just looking at the street, the trees, the sky, the air, and suddenly your wife is there and there are no cops around you. Really, it was too quick for the mind to digest," Mr. Fahmy said of the unexpected turn of events.
"What do you do all day in prison? Your mind plays tricks on you all the time. Am I going to be deported, are the doors going to open? Are they going to take me to the airport and Marwa will be there?" Mr. Fahmy said, speaking of the psychological torment his return to prison caused. "And now finally, you can actually function as a normal human being.
"Today is my first official day where I only have to worry about what to eat," he laughed.
Before the couple can travel, Mr. Fahmy must first wait for the Egyptian government to remove his name from a no-fly list.
He has also begun applying to get back his Egyptian citizenship, which he was forced to renounce earlier this year after being told he would be deported.
"Throughout my time in prison, even when I was in [solitary confinement] in Scorpion prison, which was hell on Earth, I tried not to let these feelings of hatred toward the government or the country build, because if you let these sorts of feelings take over, it will be counterproductive," Mr. Fahmy said. "I love this place with all the hot and sour politics that come with it. I have no issues right now other than getting my Egyptian citizenship back."
In the meantime, he said, he and Ms. Omara have been making plans for their return to Canada to start the new life they had been dreaming of while he was out on bail this year.
"I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am to go back to Canada and do just simple things like going to the park, going to the woods, concerts, the night scene. I want to show Marwa Canada from my eyes, to just normalize my life again," Mr. Fahmy said. "Celebrate, party – we never had a real wedding, maybe have something. I have so many thank yous I want to give to people in Canada."
When in Canada, Mr. Fahmy plans to take at least one year before returning to journalism and will continue writing a book on his ordeal in Egypt, a case that he says has much more context that needs to be told. He is in talks to take on the fellowship in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia, which he had placed on hold when he was sent back to prison. And he said he will continue fighting his legal battle with his former employer, Al Jazeera, which he has accused of placing the journalists in peril.
While Mr. Fahmy said he is grateful for support he received from opposition parties in Canada and for the efforts of Ambassador Troy Lulashnyk in Cairo, he has criticized Ottawa's slow response and initial lack of support, including not pressing for Mr. Fahmy to receive medical care in prison for an injured shoulder that has resulted in a permanent injury.
"One of my main goals when I head back to Canada is to start a debate, share my experience, without any finger-pointing, in a constructive manner and speak in Ottawa about how the Canadian government can learn from this experience in order to better protect their citizens abroad," Mr. Fahmy said.
"Because tomorrow morning, any one Canadian citizen could be in my same situation … if the Canadian government doesn't step in vigorously from Day 1."
For now, he has been spending every moment with his wife, the love of his life who he said was one of his only sources of hope when he returned to prison because he knew she would continue vigorously fighting for his release.
He said there is no way to tell how long it will take to get his name off the no-fly list, but he hopes to leave Egypt in about a week.
"I came back from prison and Marwa had packed everything. I couldn't even find my shoes," he said with a laugh as he looked at his wife, who smiled back. "She's ready to go. Marwa is ready to go."
"It's safer for us to be out. I don't trust anything," said Ms. Omara, explaining that she still feels at unease after two years of ups and downs, crushed hopes and unexpected turns.
"I just want a normal life, to eat pancakes, have lots of maple syrup, take her to hockey games, travel, to enjoy life," Mr. Fahmy said.