Mohamed Fahmy is a Canadian citizen, working in Egypt as Al-Jazeera’s acting bureau chief. Before working for the Qatari broadcaster, he was with CNN. He is, then, kind of a big deal, and the kind of journalist of which the country ought to be proud.
Fahmy is currently holed up in Cairo’s Tora prison, which has previously held disgraced president Hosni Mubarak. He has been there since December 29, held “on suspicion of broadcasting false news that harmed national security.”
In the three weeks of Fahmy’s detention, Canadian coverage has been scant. The Globe and Mail has run five stories about his imprisonment; theToronto Star, two (and an editorial calling for his release). The Canadian Press has put out two stories on Fahmy, but a Factiva search indicates that they haven’t gotten much play in CP’s member papers.
This is a stark contrast to the coverage that John Greyson and Tarek Loubani’s 50-day detention received last year. On last week’s Q media panel, theNational Post’s Jonathan Kay said that this was less about Mahmy getting short shrift and more about Greyson and Loubani being better known in the Canadian media sphere.
“And there’s another factor,” he added, “which is that because this guy spent half his life in Egypt, because he has an Arabic name, I think there’s sort of a sense that, ‘Well, yes, he’s a Canadian citizen, but maybe there’s an internal Egyptian aspect.’” (Fahmy holds dual citizenship.)
If that is indeed the cause of Fahmy’s relative obscurity, it’s a poor one. Egypt is not an ideal place to be a prisoner right now, regardless of one’s profession, but Fahmy’s imprisonment is happening in the context of elevated risks for journalists in the restless nation. Things were bad during theMubarak years, but the three-year cycle of uprising-unrest-coup-unrest has exacerbated the tensions between the old guard and the Muslim Brotherhood, with both sides cracking down on their perceived enemies in the press. In response to heightened polarization and continued intimidation of, and attacks against, journalists, Freedom House moved Egypt from “Partly Free” down to “Not Free” last year.
Fahmy shares that sad label, and has for more than three weeks. With a healthy contingent of Canadian reporters covering the prime minister’s visit next door, it would be heartening to see more attention devoted to their imprisoned colleague.
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About the author
Ronan O'Beirne was the Blog Editor for the Spring 2014 issue of Ryerson Review of Journalism.