Guarded optimism over possible pardon for Canadian journalist in Cairo

Mohamed Fahmy and his family are cautiously optimistic that the imprisoned Egyptian-Canadian journalist could be among prisoners expected to be pardoned by Egypt's president this weekend.

Sunday marks the anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising in Egypt that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The country's president is expected to issue pardons to a host of prisoners to commemorate the day.

"We're not very clear how it's going to be done but we're very hopeful that the president might take this as a chance to squeeze my brother in," Fahmy's brother, Adel Fahmy, told The Canadian Press. "We're containing our expectations."

Mohamed Fahmy and his colleagues — Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013 while working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English. After a trial on terror-related charges which was denounced as a sham, Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years.

An appeal earlier this month has since led to a retrial being ordered. Egypt's president has also announced a new decree that gives him the power to deport foreigners convicted or accused of crimes — an avenue which would only apply to Fahmy and Greste.

The prospect of pardon, however, has always been an option which could result in the release of all three journalists.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in a recent interview that the measure would be "examined" in the case if it was "appropriate for Egyptian national security."

A pardon would also come on the heels of a visit to Egypt by federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who raised Fahmy's case with his Egyptian counterpart and said Canada hopes for a resolution on the matter "sooner rather than later.''

The situation has left Fahmy and his family hopeful, but simultaneously bracing for yet another disappointment.

"My brother is trying to contain himself because there have been too many ups and downs," Fahmy's brother said.

"We felt like this during the verdict, during the appeal, we keep getting our hopes high and when it doesn't work our way it's very disappointing. It really has an effect on us, psychologically."

Buoying their hopes is the fact that the names of Fahmy and his colleagues are on a list of prisoners submitted to the Egyptian government by non-governmental organizations for pardon consideration, Fahmy's brother said.

But a possible roadblock is the fact that Egypt's interior ministry said the more than 500 prisoners expected to receive a pardon have to have completed half their sentence — a requirement that wouldn't be fulfilled by Fahmy and his colleagues, his family noted.

"It's very confusing," Fahmy's brother said. "When you want a final answer yes or no, you never get it. You just get diplomatic statements like 'it's going to be any time soon, final stages, it's a matter of days before Mohamed is gone.'"

The journalists' imprisonment is widely seen as linked to a conflict between Egypt and Qatar, which funds the Doha-based Al Jazeera network and was a strong backer of former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and his government.

Egypt has accused Al Jazeera of serving as an Islamist mouthpiece amid a crackdown on Morsi's now banned Muslim Brotherhood group — an allegation the broadcaster denies.

Recent thawing in relations between Qatar and Egypt, however, has raised expectations of a resolution in the case of Fahmy and his colleagues.

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