The case of an Egyptian-Canadian journalist imprisoned in Cairo ought to be resolved “sooner rather than later,” but the matter is a complex one, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said during a visit to the city on Thursday.
Baird’s comments followed a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart where the two discussed Mohamed Fahmy, who has spent more than a year behind bars after he and two colleagues were arrested while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English.
Baird characterized his discussions with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry as “constructive and fruitful,” but noted that he did not expect an immediate resolution in Fahmy’s case.
The statements came as a disappointment to Fahmy’s family, who had expressed hope that Baird’s visit would mark the “finale” to Fahmy’s ordeal.
“We expected that the deal would be sealed during Mr. Baird’s visit,” Fahmy’s fiancee, Marwa Omara told The Canadian Press. “However it seems that … there is no decision made or nothing will be done during the visit.”
Fahmy’s family and Omara expected to meet with Baird later on Thursday and hoped to gain some clarity on Canada’s efforts to push for Fahmy’s release.
Baird’s official stance on the matter, however, came as a blow to Fahmy himself.
“Mohamed is a bit disappointed,” Omara said. “He was so hopeful about Mr. Baird’s visit.”
The timing of Baird’s visit was what led Fahmy and his family to believe a major development in the case was imminent.
A retrial was ordered this month for Fahmy and his colleagues, and Egypt’s president had announced a new decree that gives him the power to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes.
Egyptian and Canadian government sources had also indicated that Fahmy’s deportation process under the new law was in its “final stages,” Omara said.
“We need the Canadian government to push for this,” she said. “I don’t know what the Egyptian and the Canadian government is waiting for. It’s just journalists doing their jobs.”
Fahmy moved to Canada with his family in 1991, living in Montreal and Vancouver for years before eventually moving abroad for work, which included covering stories for the New York Times and CNN.
He took over as acting bureau chief of Al Jazeera’s English-language channel in Cairo in September 2013 and, within days of taking the reigns, raised concerns about the security status of the network’s journalists working in the country.
He and two colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were arrested on Dec. 29 2013 and accused of supporting the banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, which is now officially branded a terrorist group. They were also charged with fabricating footage to undermine Egypt’s national security.
The trio vehemently denied all the allegations against them but after a trial that was internationally denounced as a sham, Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed, was sentenced to 10 years.
Fahmy’s family and a number of observers have suggested the case is largely a political one as Egyptian authorities have claimed Qatar-based Al Jazeera is biased towards the ousted Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood — an allegation the broadcaster has rejected.
—with files from the Associated Press