As Mohamed Fahmy spends his third week languishing in a cold, dark, insect-ridden cell at a notorious Cairo prison, the Egyptian-Canadian journalist’s family wonders why Ottawa hasn’t done more to push for his release.
The 40-year-old television producer with news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English was arrested with two fellow journalists — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — on Dec. 29 while working in a Cairo hotel room.
None have been officially charged but Egypt’s Interior Ministry has said the arrests were part of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government has branded a terrorist organization.
With no bed to sleep on, no blanket to keep warm and no hospital care for a suspected broken shoulder, Fahmy’s family — who contacted Canadian authorities an hour after his arrest — is imploring Ottawa to step in.
“We’re expecting more from Canada,” Fahmy’s younger brother Sherif told The Canadian Press in an interview from Kuwait. “We know that Canada is a powerful nation and we know that they can intervene to let him out.”
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada has been tight-lipped on the case, saying only that officials have been in touch with local authorities and the Egyptian-Canadian journalist, and that consular services are being provided to him.
But Sherif Fahmy said those services were slow to come and his brother needs much more help than is being offered.
“I can understand the fact that he’s in Egypt and the fact he has dual nationality is limiting how far the Canadians can intervene,” he said.
“But I think making sure that he has been provided with the minimum like a pillow and a blanket, and that he’s being treated well and that’s he’s being transferred to the hospital is the minimum that Canadians can force (authorities) to do.”
Sherif Fahmy pointed to the recent detentions of two other Canadians in Egypt. In John Greyson and Tarek Loubani’s case, Foregin Affairs Minister John Baird took an active role in the weeks before their release, even saying at one point that “Canadians have got to know that their government at the highest levels is doing absolutely everything it can.”
“We don’t know why this didn’t happen with Mohamed,” Sherif Fahmy said.
The family is concerned the lack of a strong public stand from Canada has allowed Egyptian authorities to treat Mohamed Fahmy far more severely than his team members.
“Nothing came out from the Canadian authorities yet,” his brother said. “He’s being held with the highest profile Muslim Brotherhood members.”
Fahmy hasn’t been allowed many visitors but Nancy Youssef, a friend and fellow journalist in Cairo, managed to speak briefly to him while he was in a holding cell at a different detention centre awaiting interrogation last week.
“I don’t think he knew what day it was, what time it was,” she said in a phone interview. “He told us ‘I’m being held the worst of anyone.”
The entire situation has been alarming for Youssef and her fellow reporters.
“We all know him and have never known him to be anything but a consummate professional and a dedicated journalist,” she said. “He has only advocated for telling the story.”
The recent arrests have deepened the uncertainly around reporting practices in the country, she said.
“We’re not advocates of anybody’s cause, we’re here to report on what’s happening at a very important time in Egypt,” said Youssef. “The challenge is you never know when the rules change.”
Fahmy has been interrogated four times so far — Canadian officials weren’t present for the first instance, his brother said, adding however that Fahmy continues to hope Ottawa will do something to secure his freedom.
“Yesterday his fiancee was able to meet with him for a couple of minutes,” Sherif Fahmy said. “Last thing he said was ‘I have full faith that the Canadians will get me out of this.'”
Fahmy’s family moved to Canada in 1991 and his parents still live in Montreal. He finished school in the city and then went on to graduate from a university in Calgary.
As a journalist he covered stories for the New York Times and CNN among other news outlets before moving to Egypt in 2011 and eventually becoming Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Cairo.
Al-Jazeera has said Fahmy and his team were operating within the country legally and had no affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. The channel said it is working for their release.
More than 50 news organizations from around the world denounced the arrests and called on Egyptian authorities to release the three journalists and to stop arbitrary detentions of media representatives.
Egypt’s top prosecutor has said the journalists would be held through the end of the month for interrogation. Their detention is seen by many as a sign of the military government’s impatience with dissent after it overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a coup in July.