Mohamed Fahmy was sure that he would be found not guilty that he had composed a tweet sent out after his acquittal that read: “Thank you Canada. I will be arriving soon for some love. No terrorism plans, I promise :)”
Instead, in a ruling that shocked many, Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera colleagues (Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed) were found guilty – Mohamed of aiding the ‘terrorist’ Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to seven to ten years in prison. Other Al Jazeera journalists, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, tried in abstentia, were also convicted and sentenced ten years.
Fahmy holds dual Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, and many have questioned the type of response given by the Canadian government to this case. For example, while Fahmy’s family did recognize the fact that Foreign Affairs Minister Baird and Minister of State Yelich had met with them, Fahmy’s brother told interviewers “there should have been a higher-up pressure. There should have been more urgent pressure.”
Indeed, Prime Minister Harper did not address the matter until Wednesday, three days after the verdict, and months after the arrest. Even then, the Conservative government used careful words expressing disappointment over the verdict with the Prime Minister, citing “deep concerns.”
Other prominent figures such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have been much more vocal in criticizing the verdict, and calling for clemency. Abbott even made a personal phone call to Egyptian President to appeal on Greste’s behalf.
There are those who argue that Fahmy’s dual citizenship complicates the ability of Canada to employ its diplomatic leverage beyond press releases and offering consular assistance. Others still state that there is little the Prime Minister, a lone individual, can do to press for Fahmy’s release, and instead call for the power of mobilization resting with grassroots movements.
While both may be true, it cannot be denied that political backing from high level figures is helpful. In this case, it would serve to boost existing social movements such as #FreeAJStaff. Similarly, while navigating cases of dual citizens is difficult – especially those who have been arrested in the country of their other citizenship – it does not mean that it is to be abandoned.
There are many speculations as to why the Harper government has held a stand-off approach regarding this trial. The optimists say that there might be closed-door negotiations that are occurring regarding negotiations of the prisoners. Indeed, Foreign Minister Baird defended his party’s reaction to the verdict stating that they preferred internal discussions over “bullhorn diplomacy.”
However there is skepticism as to what diplomatic leverage Canada may be able to exert in such discussions with Egypt. Pessimists also worry that the Harper government, in its prioritization of security and secularism in the region, may be to prop up a regime that isn’t composed of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At minimum, the Conservative government’s reaction to Fahmy’s verdict can be slotted into a larger trajectory of mixed messages in human rights advocacy, where it has often been criticized for being unable to match rhetoric and action.