Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy has been languishing in an Egyptian prison since December. He is waiting for an appeal hearing on his seven-year sentence for “conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood,” but it is the murder of American freelancer James Foley, rather than his own unjust sentence, that has made the Cairo bureau chief furious. Fahmy sees the solidarity in response to Foley’s killing as an opportunity to gain global support for distressed journalists in Egypt.
Fahmy told his brother Adel Fahmy, “[Foley’s] slaying will not be in vain; it will spark a global revolution against terrorism that will liberate the same people he died trying to help [by telling] their stories.”
Adel told me that his brother’s reaction to Foley’s death was the most upset Fahmy had been during nine months’ imprisonment in poor conditions, and while suffering from a shoulder injury. Fahmy didn’t know Foley personally, Adel said, but they had both covered events in Libya in 2011 after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, when Fahmy was working for CNN. Foley’s death moved Fahmy, who was reminded of the price some journalists have to pay in order to tell the truth, Adel said.
Adel has made a donation, on his brother’s behalf, to CPJ’s Emergency Fund in memory of Foley. He said his brother believes standing up for a journalist somewhere is standing up for journalists everywhere. “As CPJ and others are helping with the massive attacks against journalists in Syria and Iraq, we too appreciate their effort and call for the international community to support our fight against injustice in Egypt,” Adel said.
Fahmy’s shameful trial prompted him to consider not launching an appeal, but his family urged the Egyptian-Canadian journalist to exhaust all possible avenues. Fahmy believes that back-room diplomatic efforts are his best hope. His brother told me he believes that specifically Canada and the U.S., which supports freedom of the press and has leverage with Egypt, can do more.
Fahmy and his family are also focusing on building local support. His fiancée Marwa Omara decided to speak up and risk her own safety to defend “the love of her life.” She recently asked prison authorities to allow Fahmy and her to marry in prison. The couple are still waiting for a response.
Several Egyptian celebrities, including the film director Amr Salama, and actor Khaled Abol Naga, made a public appeal on YouTube for the journalist’s release. Other public figures, including Egypt’s most renowned Coptic Christian businessman, Naguib Sawiris, and former head of the Constituent Assembly Amr Moussa, signed affidavits to support Fahmy’s case that he was an independent journalist, and to attest to his moral character.
The rare show of solidarity from within Egypt needs international support to continue, Adel told me. “We can’t take any chances with the appeal… it may be our last hope.” International solidarity may also be the [last] hope for other imprisoned journalists in Egypt, where CPJ estimates that a further 12 are imprisoned. “This may make or break our case and theirs,” Adel said.