Mohamed Fahmy says he wants to make every moment of his time count.
That’s why, even as he remains on trial in Egypt for widely denounced terror-related offences, the Canadian journalist is launching an organization that will advocate for imprisoned members of the press.
The 40-year-old, who was recently released on bail after more than a year in a Cairo prison, was arrested with two colleagues while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English.
The motivation for the Fahmy Foundation for Free Press came from his own experience behind bars.
“Knowing that I can end up back in prison, I’m living this ‘carpe diem’ sort of approach to life where I seize the day, making use of every single hour while I can because there is a chance that I could be put back in prison,” Fahmy told The Canadian Press.
“I’m just trying to do as much as I can on every level.”
This isn’t the first time Fahmy has worked in such a capacity — in 2007 he worked as a protection delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a role in which he visited Lebanese prisons, transferred messages from inmates to their families, documented their needs and advocated for their better treatment.
His new venture will eventually be based out of Vancouver, where Fahmy plans to settle once he returns to Canada.
For now though, the foundation’s work has begun with Fahmy championing the case of an Egyptian photojournalist, Mahmoud Shawkan Abou Zeid, who has been in prison since August 2013 and is still waiting to go on trial.
“He’s facing the sort of blanket accusations that have been thrown at me,” Fahmy said. “I just felt motivated to help him…I’ve never met him”
Fahmy’s own case will be back in court on Sunday. It’s the second trial he’s going through after an appeal court dismissed the convictions of his first trial, which sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Although his legal battles continue, Fahmy has been hoping to leave Egypt under a law which allows for the deportation of foreigners convicted of crimes.
His Australian colleague left Egypt on Feb. 1 under that law, but the same has not yet happened for Fahmy — a situation he has criticized the Canadian government for.
Fahmy has also voiced his disapproval of the Egyptian judicial system and has called out Qatar-based Al Jazeera for not doing enough to protect its staff.
His strong views have been voiced for good reason, Fahmy noted.
He only spoke out against Al Jazeera after exhausting “every single diplomatic channel” and raising his concerns with the highest levels in the agency, he said.
“I’m doing it for two reasons — one, so that they can try to respond positively, and two, to protect other journalists in Al Jazeera who are not able to speak up,” he said. “As for the Egyptian government, from day one nobody has been more critical of the procedures than me…that will continue.”
When it comes to his urging that Canada be more assertive with Egypt to push for his deportation, Fahmy said he’s only asking to be treated fairly.
“If Canada sets this as a precedent in dealing with similar situations where innocent Canadians are caught behind bars for doing nothing at all, they come out as this mild government that’s not exerting enough pressure.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada has been expressing its concerns to Egypt “at all levels” in the matter and would continue doing so.
Fahmy’s reality, however, is a “diplomatic blockade” where his deportation application appears stalled. He is also waiting to get some sort of Canadian identification as his passport hasn’t been returned ever since being seized over a year ago.
In the meantime, he continues his daily efforts to move both his own case, and the cases of others like him, closer to resolution.
“I need to make use of every single day to make sure I don’t go back to prison,” Fahmy said. “I really can’t let my guard down and just go totally calm and relax because there’s so much to do. There is really so much to do.”