I got to know Mohamed Fahmy during and after the Egyptian revolution of January 2011. At the recommendation of a colleague, and friends at CNN and the New York Times, I hired him as my fixer in Cairo. Fahmy had good contacts among activists, as well as the security forces and the recently overthrown government. He was also well-respected by all sides as a diligent, tenacious and truthful journalist.
It was a bonus that he, like me, was also a Canadian.
Canadians like Fahmy and myself straddle two worlds – the one in which we were born and raised (I in India, and Fahmy in Egypt), and the other we eventually chose as our home (Canada). While we embrace the philosophies and values of our new homeland, a part of our heart still beats for the great nations from which we’ve come. I explain this to my friends saying, “Canada’s like the wife you’re head-over-heels in love with. And India’s like the mother who taught you how to love.”
Fahmy and I connected on this. Our time on the road and in Cairo’s backstreet cafes was spent bashing heads over both Canadian and Egyptian politics, and how both countries could be made better.
He believed that Canada would take care of itself for the time being, but that Egypt needed him now. That’s why he was in the streets in late January 2011. And that’s why he was working in Cairo as a journalist at the time – a time when young Egyptians like him believed that anything they had aspired to was possible: an end to the claustrophobia of a police state, and a time to build an ideal.
A time to paint fences, clean up the garbage, make art, shout slogans. And a time to re-invent journalism in Egypt. To tell stories without fear of reprisal.
I was sceptical about that last point. I had taught journalism in Egypt for a few years, and had witnessed the kind of media culture the Mubarak years had spawned. Decades of self-censorship, pandering to the ruling class, and sycophancy in Egyptian media would be hard to shake off. But Fahmy was adamant that it could be done now. Look at what had happened in just 18 days. He believed in Egyptians’ ability and yearning to do better.
At this time – yet another dark phase in its history – Egypt needs journalists like Mohamed Fahmy. Journalists who are the antithesis of the TV presenters, talk show hosts, and reporters in today’s Egyptian media, who woudn’t know integrity if it hit them on the head.
What a pity, then, that Egypt has jailed Mohamed Fahmy on bogus charges, at a time when it needs him most.
Follow Yasir Khan on Twitter: @Khanundrum