An exhausted but "ecstatic" Mohamed Fahmy woke up Wednesday outside of Egypt for the first time in two years and began something of a victory tour in Britain, a celebratory pit stop on his way home to Canada.
"I'm ecstatic, I finally feel that I'm free. It has just kicked in, to be honest," he said by telephone between a stop at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a visit to Amnesty International, to thank the organization for its support during his 21-month ordeal, which included more than 400 days in prison.
The Canadian journalist, who became a cause célèbre during his legal battles in Egypt, said he had feared he would be prevented from leaving Egypt right up until the moment that his EgyptAir flight departed from Cairo airport. Only then was he sure his name had been removed from a government no-fly list.
"The Canadian ambassador [Troy Lulashnyk] walked me right to the gate to make sure I was on the plane. You could see that me, him, Marwa [Omara] – my wife – and the consular team were still nervous that my name might still be on the list. It wasn't, and that was the moment I knew it was finally over," he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Though his onward flight to Canada isn't booked yet, Mr. Fahmy plans to use some of his new-found celebrity to try to start a debate about how the government can do a better job of protecting Canadian citizens abroad. The 41-year-old former Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English was arrested in December, 2013, along with two of his colleagues.
He feels the Conservative government could have done more to help him, especially in the early days following his arrest, during which he believes much could have been solved by a phone call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
"In Egypt, or other countries that are hyper-sensitive about security, the intervention should have come from the most senior leader in Canada immediately, because any successful intervention could only happen in the first days [after the arrest] before it goes to court," he said.
Mr. Fahmy seems set to make a splash during the last 10 days of Canada's federal election campaign. He said he has agreed to meet New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
"I'm not endorsing any party over the others, but I do have to express gratitude to the NDP and Liberals for what they did throughout this ordeal by communicating directly with my family and my lawyers, and questioning Mr. Harper in Parliament about his mild approach to the case," he said.
"There are lessons to be learned from this very complicated trial and lessons for the government in protecting my fellow Canadians abroad."
Mr. Fahmy – who was left without a passport during a brief release from prison while awaiting a retrial earlier this year – criticized a new law allowing the government to revoke the Canadian citizenship of those convicted of terrorism charges, noting the law could have easily been used against him, even though the charges he faced of "aiding a terrorist group" were always considered to have been trumped up by the Egyptian government to punish his employer.
Mr. Fahmy was born in Cairo but moved with his family to Canada as a teenager. He had his original Canadian passport seized after his arrest.
Mr. Fahmy also questioned why issues of race and religion – specifically the question of whether women can wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies – have been thrust into the centre of the election campaign.
"I understand that during elections anywhere in the world, leaders have to appeal to the emotions of the people voting, but I believe that issues related to race and religious beliefs should not be a factor, and some people who are running [for election] are bringing these up."
Mr. Fahmy said that one of his goals while in London was to raise awareness of what he calls "the context" of his ordeal: The fact that Al Jazeera English hired him in the fall of 2013 without making him aware its licence to broadcast in the country had already lapsed by that point.
Mr. Fahmy, who is suing his former employer for $100-million in a British Columbia court, has accused the Qatar-based network – which supported Egypt's former Muslim Brotherhood government – of negligence that contributed to his troubles.
Politics aside, Mr. Fahmy said that he was most excited to finally bring Ms. Omara to Canada. The two got married earlier this year, while he was free from prison awaiting retrial.
"What I look forward to most is showing off Canada to my wife, who has never seen snow, never seen Canada, never experienced this beautiful, laid-back atmosphere. I believe she'll be very happy in our new home."
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story and an earlier headline incorrectly said Mohamed Fahmy had received invitations from all three main political parties to appear at their rallies. In fact, he was not invited by the Conservatives. This version has been corrected.