The main floor of the LRC building at Humber College’s North campus buzzed with excitement last Tuesday as students and faculty scrambled for
seating as Egyptian-born Canadian and award-winning journalist Mohamed Fahmy arrived.
Fahmy, who was working in Egypt as the International Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English, was arrested in his hotel room in December 2013.
He only returned to Canada in October after spending 438 grueling days in an Egyptian prison after trials for operating without a press licence and broadcasting information harmful to Egypt. He was convicted in June 2014, along with fellow Al-Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste and the court ruled the trio were part of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, considered a terror group in Egypt.
A retrial was ordered in January and Fahmy and the other two were convicted again in August.
Greste was eventually deported to his native Australia, while Fahmy was released in September. Mohamed was also freed and he returned to Doha, United Arab Emirates.
“I’ve been free for about a month now and it’s just great to gather the pieces and decompress,” said Fahmy at the HSF-hosted event Real Talks. “Being back home here in Canada just means the world to me and my wife. I just think that we should not take anything for granted.”
Even behind bars, journalism was an important part of life for Fahmy, who launched a mock radio broadcast show from his cell.
“We started this radio mock show inside solitary confinement,” he told the audience.
“We had a hatch, which was seven-by-three, you could look from your door and you could see the other cell in front of you.
“So we’d call everybody to the hatch,” he said.
The crowd was attentive as Fahmy recalled his time in prison and his ongoing battle for justice, not only for himself, but for journalists around the world.
“When you see someone who’s a living historical figure, it’s a bit surreal, especially when you’re that close and you can see them perspiring,” said Oren Wry, a second year broadcast radio student.
Fahmy’s wife Marwa Omara sat in the front row while her husband addressed an excited crowd.
“I feel that he is a different man,” said Omara. “He is stronger than before. Now he feels it’s not about him, he’s fighting now for the freedom of press.
“He’s keen to help other journalists,” she said.
“This is part of his healing process, this is part of him giving back for everyone who did something for him.”
Professors and other faculty paid rapt attention to Fahmy as did students, packing the hall.
“I think he illustrated just how complex the Middle East is and it’s even more complex than I think most of us probably thought before he talked,” said Jamie Killingsworth, a media and globalization instructor at the University of Guelph-Humber.
“I think he’s an impressive individual. It’s an inspirational story but he’s also got a real cautionary tale there, too,” he said.
Fahmy is now trying to give back, but he is still a journalist at heart.
“I got into this business because I do believe that making a difference in journalism is very important,” he said.
“It’s a craft that is honourable, fighting for the underdog, searching for the truth, really going out to get answers. And that’s what keeps a journalist going,” Fahmy said.
Humber College is one of many colleges and universities Fahmy has spoken at and is one of the many ways he is trying to give back since his release and pardon.