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joanna gislason

Joanna Gislason, a partner in the Vancouver-based firm Caroline + Gislason, is a member of Mohamed Fahmy's Canadian legal team.

On Saturday, Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy will finally learn whether the court of his first home, Egypt, considers him a promoter of terrorism, a spreader of false news, and a criminal.

It seems a bit late for that. After more than 400 days in the intolerable filth and brutal conditions of an Egyptian prison, days consumed by biting insects, the pain of an untreated injury and a cold concrete slab for a bed, of cells shared with jihadis and Islamic State fighters, what else must his beloved Egypt consider him to be but a criminal?

There is a photograph of Mohamed taken in court on the day he was released on bail pending the outcome of this retrial. Mohamed stands defiant, head back and proud, clasping the Egyptian flag like a placard. "Egyptian people are very proud of being Egyptian," his wife, Marwa, told me when we visited. "Egypt is in our hearts, not in politics."

But it is politics that put Mohamed in that prison and politics that will either return him there or release him on Saturday.

Mohamed isn't a criminal, of course. He is an award-winning journalist. He didn't promote terrorism or broadcast lies. He reported the news, including news of protests by the Muslim Brotherhood – the group that in 2012 was democratically elected and then in 2013 declared a terrorist organization by the government that deposed it.

This is a politics in which a man can be president of the country one day and face the death penalty for terrorism the next.

This tug of war with the hearts of Egypt has left many broken. It has left the concept of justice broken, too. What would it mean to be guilty or innocent in a system where it is a crime for me to write an article criticizing the Egyptian court, where a young photojournalist can be detained without charge and without recourse for years, where it is now a crime to publish a news story that conflicts with a government press statement?

Mohamed is guilty of having faith in the integrity and sanctity of his profession. He believed that objective reporting had a place in Egypt just as he believed that his employer Al Jazeera would uphold journalistic ethics and remain outside of the fray of politics.

He was betrayed on both counts.

Journalism was grossly perverted by the Qatari network to tug Egyptian hearts toward its Muslim Brotherhood sympathies. In prison, Mohamed learned, for example, of Brotherhood activists being paid as journalists by Al Jazeera – a clear crime in Egypt by that time, to say nothing of the offence to journalism. Qatar knew what politics it favoured for Egypt and used Al Jazeera as its mouthpiece.

Egypt, for its part, is criminalizing the profession Mohamed loves. In the face of international criticism, freedom of the press has been dramatically restricted under Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government – presumably to silence those calls to the heart that undermine his view of Egyptian sovereignty.

The Egypt that lives in Mohamed's and Marwa's hearts can only hold its breath and wait for a verdict in a courtroom where justice is the worst kind of hope.

The Cairo courthouse that Mohamed will return to tomorrow is itself imprisoned: It sits inside the walls of the Tora Prison complex heavily guarded by armed tanks and military checkpoints – a fact I discovered firsthand when I attended one of Mohamed's court dates.

Sitting on its dusty benches amidst cigarette butts and avoiding water despite the heat (no women's washrooms), I cried. Accuseds in a soundproof cage to prevent their speaking to the media, a throng of robed lawyers pushing and shouting to win a chance to speak, a guarded judge who shouts even more, the palpable anxiety of powerlessness.

Saturday's verdict will tell us little about Mohamed Fahmy and a thing or two about politics. Whatever it says, we need to bring him home – Egyptian heart and all.

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