The Marriott Cell
An Epic Journey from Cairo’s Scorpion Prison to Freedom
Mohamed Fahmy spent 438 days in an Egyptian prison—unjustly jailed for conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, and for fabricating news for Al Jazeera during his tenure as bureau chief for the Qatari network in Egypt. He was released in 2015 following international outcry. While in prison, he conducted interviews behind bars with members of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and others, gaining rare insights into modern terrorism. Onstage, he talks about Middle East politics, ISIS, free speech, and the ongoing struggle for universal human rights.
Mohamed Fahmy is a multi-award winning Egyptian-Canadian author and journalist, speaking on topics such as freedom of expression, militant Islam, terrorism, human rights, corporate media responsibility, journalism in conflict zones, extremism, and politics. He currently writes a regular column for the Toronto Star on the Middle East, and is the author of The Marriott Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo’s Scorpion Prison to Freedom, based on his Kafkaesque trial. The book contains exclusive interviews he conducted behind bars with political prisoners and extremists that provides the reader with rare insights on the terrorism dominating our headlines. It is currently being be developed into a feature film by The Development Partnership in the United Kingdom.
Fahmy escaped from Kuwait with his family during the first Gulf War in 1990. He entered Iraq on the first day of the war in 2003 with the Los Angeles Times. He spent 15 years reporting from the Middle East and North Africa for CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera English, and completed a one-year stint in 2007 with the International Committee for the Red Cross protecting the rights of political prisoners, the missing, and refugees in Beirut.
He received a Peabody Award in 2011 alongside his CNN colleagues for his coverage of the Arab Spring, and co-authored Egyptian Freedom Story: a photo documentary of the January 25th revolution. In 2012, he received the Tom Renner Investigative Reporting Award for producing the CNN Freedom Project documentary series Death in the Desert, which exposes the trafficking of Sub-Saharan Africans to Israel.
In his role with CNN, he reported extensively on the fall of Hosni Mubarak during the January 25th revolution and on the Syrian uprising. He travelled to Libya during the early days of the revolution in 2011 and reported on the hunt for dictator Gaddafi, the formation of a transitional government and the rise of extremism.
In 2012, he covered the elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and was the first western journalist to interview Mohamed Al Zawahiri, the brother of the Al Qaeda leader upon his release from prison.
In September 2013, he accepted the title of Al Jazeera English Bureau Chief in Cairo. In December of the same year the Egyptian authorities arrested him and his two colleagues and accused them of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a terrorist group, and of fabricating news broadcast on Al Jazeera. He was unjustly convicted and imprisoned in the Tora maximum security prison where he spent a month in solitary confinement with a broken shoulder and over 438 days living with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and ISIS. After unprecedented outcry from international press freedom organizations, the United Nations, and President Barack Obama, and the diplomatic community—and with the support of his attorney, Amal Clooney—he was finally pardoned of all charges and released in September of 2015.
While still in prison, Fahmy founded the Fahmy Foundation: an NGO and non-profit based in Vancouver dedicated to supporting journalists and prisoners of conscience imprisoned worldwide.
Upon his release, he spoke at the World Forum of Democracy in Strasbourg days after the Paris attacks and met with the Secretary General of the European Council. He received the Canadian Commission World Press Freedom Award and a certificate from the UNESCO and the 2016 Freedom to Read award from the Writers’ Union of Canada. Upon his arrival to Canada he accepted a position as adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia in the Centre for Applied Ethics. He lives with a spirit of acceptance after sustaining a permanent shoulder disability from an injury that was exacerbated in prison due to medical negligence and left him with limited movement in one arm.
In January 2016 he collaborated with Amnesty International and various Canadian lawyers in writing a 12-point protection charter to improve consular services and better protect Canadians and journalists imprisoned or risking arrest abroad, and presented it to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
After a successful career as a journalist, and after accepting the post of Al Jazeera English Bureau Chief in Cairo, Mohamed Fahmy was falsely accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood—a group designated as a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government. He and his colleagues were imprisoned in the Scorpion maximum security prison in Egypt for over 438 days, living with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
After massive international outcry against his sentence, Fahmy was finally pardoned of all charges in September 2015.
Now, in his riveting keynotes, Fahmy discusses the“Media Trial of the Century” and his incredible ordeal. He talks about what it takes to survive solitary confinement and imprisonment with hardened extremists, far from home and family—offering unparalleled insights into the motivations of insurgents. He explains how press freedoms and ethics are threatened by states and endangered by media organizations. And he speaks of the role NGOs and human rights advocates play for journalists and prisoners of conscience.
He writes and speaks about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the Arab revolutions and fall of Arab dictators as a witness from the frontlines—drawing on the success and shortcomings of Western foreign policies in the Middle East.
His unique knowledge as a Canadian-Egyptian, coupled with years of experience as a journalist, human rights advocate, and political prisoner engrossed in the politics of the Middle East and bearing witness to its evolution, means he provides his audience with a perspective rarely presented in western mainstream media.
Fahmy does not stop at analyzing the politics of the Middle East, which left him a pawn in a geopolitical rift between heads of states.
In his quest to turn his imprisonment into an achievement rather an impediment he speaks about his quest to improve consular services provided to Canadians imprisoned abroad or risking arrest. He is currently working with civil society groups in Canada on developing and introducing a bill to parliament in hopes of enshrining a law that obligates the Canadian government to intervene when one of its own is jailed abroad.