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The Canadian Journalist Imprisoned in Egypt Has Been Granted a Retrial PLZ DON'T PUBLISH THANKS

Mohamed Fahmy, who's been sentenced to seven years in an Egyptian jail essentially for doing his job a journalist, may yet have hope.

This story originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, along with his colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, have been granted a retrial. On Thursday, the Egyptian court of cassation dismissed the sentencing of the Al Jazeera English (AJE) journalists, citing flaws within the case. In June, a court had issued a sentence of seven years to both Fahmy and Greste and ten years to Mohamed for "conspiring with terrorists," "producing false news," and "using unlicensed equipment." The verdict received international condemnation and was denounced as a sham by Amnesty International.


The date of the retrial has yet to be announced, but is expected to be set within a month. Fahmy, Greste, and Mohamed can only apply for a release on bail at the first session of retrial, since it is not under the jurisdiction of the court of cassation. The three have been behind bars for over a year now.

Fahmy was born in Egypt and raised between Egypt and Kuwait, eventually moving to Montreal with his family in 1991. In 2003 he began working as a stringer, and eventually a reporter, during the Iraq War. He spent the majority of his career reporting from the Middle East, working as a producer for Dubai TV, a reporter for the New York Times, and eventually as a correspondent for CNN. In the summer of 2013, Fahmy was offered a position with AJE. However, by that time, Al Jazeera Arabic's image in Egypt had begun to deteriorate.

Egyptian government officials perceived the network's Arabic channel, Mubasher Misr, as a biased news source—and following former president Mohamed Morsi's ouster, Egyptian security forces labeled the network a "mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood," painting it as a media branch for the group, and tantamount to a terrorist transmission. However, the English channel maintained a reputation of objectivity, distancing itself from its Arabic counterpart. Assured of a distinction between the English and Arabic networks, Fahmy joined AJE as its Cairo bureau chief in September 2013.


His tenure as bureau chief lasted less than three months. On December 29, security forces raided the temporary offices of AJE set up in a Marriott hotel room, and arrested Fahmy and Greste. The trio would later be dubbed the "Marriott Cell" by authorities who accused the journalists of working with the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine state security. Mohamed had been arrested at his home a few hours before.

Al Jazeera, for its part, seems to have shirked its responsibility toward its own correspondents. In September 2013, security forces had already raided and shut down Mubasher Misr. Just days later, AJE's office was also raided, resulting in the confiscation of broadcast equipment and the arrest of Mostafa Hawa, the office's financial manager.

In an email to senior management in Doha, dated September 5, 2013, AJE producer Heba Fahmy (unrelated to Mohamed) wrote, "I would like to stress that AJE is 'not free' to operate in Cairo, because the prosecution considers us as a channel without permits." Management's response was to set up the temporary office in the Marriott hotel.

Two days later, on his first day as bureau chief, Fahmy also voiced concern to management. In an email he wrote, "I would just like to suggest that I am willing to meet the lawyers myself to try and get a better picture of where we stand legally."

Afaf Saoudi, an executive producer for AJE, responded to Fahmy: "I appreciate your concern about the legal issue but Doha management will deal with it from here. Please just focus on the production side at the moment and on how best we can tell the story with the limitations we have."


However, none of it seems to have been dealt with, given that from September up until the December arrest, neither Fahmy, Greste, nor Mohamed ever held press cards, meaning that senior management never got their staff accredited.

Al Jazeera also failed to maintain a distinction between its Arabic and English networks. Footage produced by Fahmy and his AJE team was edited and broadcast over the Arabic channel. Upon seeing his footage aired on Mubasher Misr, Fahmy pointed it out to management and warned that "due to the security situation this action may come back to bite us."

Farag Fathy Farag, the lawyer formerly representing Al Jazeera, quit the case in the middle of a court session back in May. "If I continued to work with Al Jazeera I would have been working against the journalists," said Farag. "Al Jazeera was using my clients for self-promotion and endangered the reporters' chance for freedom."

Farag alleges that Al Jazeera worked against the case his legal team prepared for the journalists' trial. "When we were making our defense, one article stipulated that it was the responsibility of the network [to obtain licensing], not the journalists. Al Jazeera didn't accept this." According to Farag, management also disregarded his advice to ensure a division between AJ Arabic and AJE during the trial.

Meanwhile, the three journalists were left in the dark about the lawyer's decision until his sudden resignation, and voiced their shock at his actions.


Still, one of Fahmy's current lawyers, Negad Borai, also maintains that the broadcast of AJE-intended footage on the Arabic channel was a "deep mistake" made by the network, and said that effectively, Al Jazeera broke its contract with his client. For all of Al Jazeera's missteps, however, many observe that it is precisely because of their Al Jazeera affiliation that the reporters remain behind bars.

"Egyptian authorities want to punish Fahmy and the others on behalf of Al Jazeera," said Borai.

Qatar and Egypt's Feud
With state television largely avoiding coverage of the 2011 uprisings, Al Jazeera, including its Arabic channel, was well-regarded for the fact that it covered the protests. Al Jazeera was founded and is funded by the royal family of Qatar, and has been criticized for being largely influenced by the Qatari emir and, in turn, his foreign policy.

Last month, in a letter to the Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression, Fahmy wrote that he and his colleagues "are victims of a real ongoing war between Egypt and Qatar." Many support the view that the case had political undertones and was driven by a vendetta between the two governments.

Qatar has a long history with the Brotherhood, and as the group gained prominence in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring, Qatar saw an opportunity to back Brotherhood-affiliated political parties. In 2012, Qatar pledged $9.3 billion CAD to Morsi's government. When the military ousted Morsi, and subsequently denounced the Muslim Brotherhood as "terrorists," members of the Islamist group fled Egypt. Some took refuge in Doha, where Al Jazeera footed their hotel bills. Qatar's continued support for the group obviously did not sit well with Egypt's incoming authorities, resulting in the freezing over of relations between the two countries.


Recently, there seems to have been a thaw in the conflict. Qatar announced its "full support" of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the latest GCC meeting. al-Sisi said he would consider a pardon for the AJE journalists in November. Mubasher Misr was officially taken off the airwaves last week. The end of the rift seems to be more about pragmatism and maintaining a sense of stability in the region than any mutual agreement. Regardless, speculation arose that the political reconciliation could affect the outcome of the journalists' trial, or at the very least, encourage the Egyptian president to issue a pardon.

"We can expect al-Sisi to declare a pardon to indicate a rapprochement between Qatar and Egypt," said Lina Khattib, the director of Carnegie's Middle East Centre.

Likelihood of Release
Al-Sisi has more than just foreign politics as an impetus to issue a pardon. Following widespread condemnation of the verdict for the three journalists, in June al-Sisi said he would not intervene in the court's decision. By autumn, he seems to have recognized the stain this verdict made on Egypt's international image. He announced a decree that would allow for the repatriation of foreign prisoners, and followed that up by saying he would consider a pardon for the three journalists.

This pardon, however, can only come after the full legal process has been exhausted. This means that the court needs to issue another guilty verdict in order for the president to issue the potential pardon. According to Borai, it will take somewhere between six months to a year for the second trial. In the meantime, Fahmy's legal team are applying for temporary release on health grounds because of his broken shoulder and Hepatitis C, which he needs treated.

Following Thursday's decision, Fahmy's family said that they will apply for deportation for Fahmy. However, because of Fahmy's dual citizenship, the legal process for repatriation remains muddled. Borai told VICE that, in order for the deportation decree to be applied, Fahmy would have to give up his Egyptian citizenship.

Compared to other governments, Canada had one of the most subdued responses to June's verdict. Fahmy's family has said that the Canadian government has been helpful, but has also called on the prime minister to exercise more pressure on the Egyptian government to have Fahmy released from prison. Foreign Minister John Baird announced he would travel to Cairo in January to "push for Fahmy's release."