WATCH ABOVE: There are hints that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy may soon be released from prison. Vassy Kapelos has the details.
Mohamed Fahmy could soon be a free man, after being detained for more than 400 days in Egypt, but it appears to be coming at the cost of his Egyptian citizenship.
The Egyptian-Canadian journalist’s family confirmed to The Canadian Press late Monday he had renounced his Egyptian citizenship in hopes he could be released and deported from the country under a decree that permits the president to deport foreign citizens convicted or accused of crimes.
Fahmy was arrested along with his Al-Jazeera colleagues, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, on Dec. 29, 2013. The trio of journalists for the Qatar-based news network were later convicted on terrorism-related charges and accused of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Fahmy and Greste were ordered to serve seven years in prison while Mohamed was given a 10-year sentence.
Fahmy’s family have been urging Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to free the 40-year-old. But, taking advantage of the decree, by dropping his Egyptian citizenship, seems to have been his only hope for getting out and moving on with his life.
It was because of that decree Greste walked free on Sunday and was deported to Cyprus.
Marwa Omara, Fahmy’s fiancée, told The Canadian Press Egyptian authorities essentially made his freedom conditional on giving up his nationality, but said he will be permitted to come back to Egypt as a tourist.
Fahmy’s family, through his Twitter account on Sunday, asked followers whether his freedom was worth the cost of his Egyptian citizenship.
“Polling: Would you drop your nationality for freedom? Is the identity confined to a piece of paper?”
Fahmy’s supporters voiced their disappointment at the idea the journalist may have to make such a choice.
Cecilia Greyson, whose filmmaker brother John Greyson was held in an Egyptian prison for 50 days in 2013 and released after negotiations between the Canadian and Egyptian governments, called it an injustice.
Activist Soraya Bahgat also condemned the choice her “friend” would have to make.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD) condemned Sisi for forcing Fahmy to make such a choice.
“To push somebody to renounce his nationality… is extremely sad,” ECCD board chair Ehab Lotayef told Global News on Monday. “As somebody who has dual nationality… I wouldn’t want to be forced to be put in that situation.”
Lotayef echoed the widely shared sentiment that Fahmy and his colleagues were wrongfully convicted. He explained Sisi had the ability to secure the journalist’s release, without having to go through judicial hoops or forcing Fahmy to drop his Egyptian citizenship.
“It just shows the type of positions the Egyptian government is forcing people into,” he said.
University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes said there will likely be more details about how Fahmy came to be released once he’s out of Egypt and travels to Canada.
“Once he arrives here, there may be some disclosure that there was a tacit agreement that they would look into potential charges here that could be looked at once he arrives in Canada,” he explained. “But, I think most people would accept that it was just done to get him out of the country.”
Mendes questioned what role the Canadian government’s relationship with Egypt played in negotiations.
He suggested the Sisi government’s crackdown on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood could be a reason for the Canadian government treading lightly.
Lotayef, however, had harsh criticisms for Sisi and the Egyptian judicial system, and questioned why Canada is giving the Egyptian government “the chance to save face.”
A former Canadian ambassador to Egypt sees things differently.
“Governments don’t like to be harrassed,” said Ferry de Kerckhove. “We have to do it. There’s no question. But quiet diplomacy is now evidently going to be much more effective.”
With files from Vassy Kapelos and The Canadian Press