Mohamed Fahmy, one of three Al Jazeera journalists who spent more than 400 days in an Egyptian jail, has criticized his employer for not doing enough to secure his immediate release.
In an interview with the CBC News investigative program “The Fifth Estate” on Friday, Fahmy said Al Jazeera’s “epic incompetence” led him and two colleagues — Al Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste and producer Baher Mohamed — to be sentenced to prison for more than seven years in a terrorism case that many human-rights organizations called a sham.
Al Jazeera is owned and financed by the government of Qatar. Although Al Jazeera maintains its editorial independence, the government has long been a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party that rose to power in Egypt following the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power in a 2013 coup in which the Egyptian military was installed as the temporary governing force. Under the Egyptian military, the Muslim Brotherhood was designated a “terrorist group,” and because of it, Al Jazeera’s employees soon found themselves in the government’s crosshairs.
The Egyptian government ordered the shutdown of Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, an Arabic-language news channel targeted at Egypt that was affiliated, but separate from, Al Jazeera’s other regional channels (Al Jazeera shut down the channel entirely last year). In December 2013, Fahmy and Greste were arrested at the Marriott Hotel where Al Jazeera English had been broadcasting following a raid on the network’s Cairo offices. They were sentenced to prison last year.
“Because of this geopolitical [feud] and the bigotry between the two countries, Egypt and Qatar, and the ongoing political challenges between the two countries, we were pawns at the end of the day,” Fahmy said of the arrests.
“I was fuming,” Fahmy said when he saw his news stories aired on the banned channel. “There was something that could harm us.”
Al Anstey, managing editor for Al Jazeera English, denies packages intended for the English-language channel aired in full on the banned Mubasher Misr channel, but conceded some Al Jazeera English material may have aired on other channels, including Mubasher Misr.
“You wouldn’t take an entire package from one of the other network channels and simply copy-paste it onto your own channel,” Anstey told the CBC in a separate interview. “There may be a sharing of content across the network, and that’s absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean that, therefore, there is a direct copy-paste from one channel to the other.”
“It’s putting the story ahead of the journalists,” Fahmy said. “When you’re in a country and you’re told you’re not welcome, the least you could do is to try to resolve the situation or just leave.”
During the trial, Al Jazeera assembled a legal team for the three journalists. Unimpressed with his legal representation, Fahmy hired human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the wife of actor George Clooney. His legal bills, which have climbed into to tens of thousands of dollars, have been entirely paid by him and his family after Al Jazeera refused to compensate him for separate representation.
“[He] has decided he wants his own lawyer,” Anstey said. “We have continued to support [him] and his family throughout, and we will continue to do so.”
This week, a re-trial is scheduled to begin for Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera colleagues. The new trial will start without Greste, who took advantage of a presidential decree to be deported from the country earlier this month. Fahmy, who holds dual citizenship in Canada and Egypt, qualifies for the same deportation arrangement if he agrees to renounce his Egyptian citizenship. His colleague Mohamed is a full Egyptian citizen and does not qualify for deportation.
Fahmy, who has yet to take advantage of the deportation decree, is determined not to return to jail, but says he has little faith he will be acquitted because “Al Jazeera remains, in the eyes of the Egyptians, as public enemy number one.
“It’d be very naïve for anyone to believe that we are going to be acquitted,” he said. “Of course we want to be exonerated, but I don’t see it happening.”
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.