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Canada to train Egyptian police

As part of new agreement, Canada will be directly supporting the same ministry detaining Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohammed Fahmy
Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry give a press conference in Cairo this month (AFP)

CAIRO - On 14 and 15 January, Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird visited Egypt with the intention of securing the release of imprisoned Al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egyptian national.

The minister's team was unsure its effort would be successful, but remained cautiously optimistic, Baird's officials told Canadian journalists in the days leading up to the trip.

In the end, they were unsuccessful: Baird sat down with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry for talks he described as “fruitful”, but his planned meeting with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was cancelled and Fahmy remains in jail.

While in Cairo, however, the minister announced a set of new co-operation agreements between Canada and the Egyptian government, which Baird's officials told journalists were designed to “support stability and prosperity in Egypt”.

The plans ranged from training for Egyptian diplomats to funding for local small-to-medium sized businesses, butone of the agreements stood out.

With funding from the United Arab Emirates, Canada has agreed to send a team of Canadian police officers to Egypt to train their Egyptian counterparts, and to receive Egyptian police officers for training at the Canadian Police College in the capital, Ottawa.

This “trilateral initiative to support the professionalization and skills development of the Egyptian police”, as Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development described the project, means that Canada will be directly supporting staff from Egypt's Interior Ministry, the same ministry that is currently responsible for detaining Fahmy.

Adam Hodge, Baird's press secretary, told Middle East Eye this week that initiatives like the Canada-UAE-Egypt police collaboration programmes "will help to encourage stability, security and economic growth in the country".

"Minister Baird’s most recent visit to Egypt allowed him to advance Canadian foreign policy interests and support social and economic development, while providing the opportunity to again raise consular issues, particularly concerning the journalist Mohamed Fahmy," Hodge said.

Fahmy has been held for over a year, alongside Al Jazeera colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. He and Greste were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years. The three will face retrial later this year.

In a statement released while Baird was in Cairo, Fahmy criticised the Canadian government's approach to securing his release. “I do believe that Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper could do more to obtain my release if he were to directly intervene in our case,” Fahmy said.

Baird finally met with Sisi at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, where he “raised the topic [of Fahmy's detention] over dinner”, Canada's CTV reported.

Fahmy's family members had expressed hope that he might be included on the list of 584 prisoners expected to be pardoned on the four-year anniversary of Egypt's 25 January revolution.

Those pardons have yet to be issued, however, and Fahmy remains behind bars.