For more than two months, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian journalist, and two of his colleagues from Al Jazeera's English-language service have languished in a Cairo jail, facing trumped-up charges of being members of and assisting a terrorist organization.
The allegations against him are preposterous, and appear to be a function of the deep paranoia of Egypt's military commanders, who have largely outlawed dissent since seizing power in a coup last year. Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues are among the regime's many victims. The military's enemies list has broadened beyond the usual targets in the Muslim Brotherhood to include anyone who dares question the authority of the ruling generals. Journalism has become a crime.
There have been countless, credible calls for Mr. Fahmy and his colleagues' release from prison. Barack Obama has denounced the charges against them through his spokesman, Jay Carney. Representatives from the United Nations have also demanded the men be freed. The Australian government is vociferously lobbying for the release of Mr. Fahmy's co-accused, Peter Greste, an Australian citizen.
So why has Ottawa been so cautious? Why not explicitly call for the release of Mr. Fahmy, a Canadian citizen? The question was put this week to Lynne Yelich, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services: "Canada is doing its due process," she said. "It's been informed of any updates, and this is an area that has been of interest, and we are watching it very closely." That's a remarkably mealy-mouthed response.
Mr. Fahmy's family, for its part, has thanked the federal government for what little it has done: providing consular services to Mr. Fahmy and telling Egypt it expects a fair trial. But they should be worried. We all should be. Ottawa's hesitation to take a strong stance on Mr. Fahmy's case is disturbing, and hard to understand.
Why is Ottawa reluctant to openly call for Mr. Fahmy's release? Is it because he's a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen? Is he somehow not Canadian enough? Is this about his employer? Or does Ottawa honestly believe that he will receive anything resembling a fair trial in Egypt? If so, the generals are not alone in their delusions.
In the absence of any real answers from the federal government, we are left with a vacuum. And Mr. Fahmy? He's left in jail.