By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Mohamed Fahmy, the Al Jazeera journalist pardoned last month after spending over 400 days in an Egyptian jail, said on Tuesday that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper should have worked much harder to secure his release.
Fahmy's return to Canada just a week ahead of a tightly-contested federal election due on Oct. 19 could prove embarrassing for Harper and his Conservative government, with the journalist meeting both of Harper's main opponents to thank them for their support.
Fahmy, a naturalized Canadian who gave up his Egyptian citizenship during his imprisonment, said he felt "betrayed and abandoned" by Harper, who he said dispatched envoys who lacked the clout to influence Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
"There are no words to describe how it feels when you are wrongly convicted and sitting in a cold cell, infested with insects, nurturing a broken shoulder," Fahmy told a news conference.
"Sitting in that prison cell, it was difficult not to feel betrayed and abandoned by Prime Minister Harper," he said.
Fahmy, along with Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste, was sentenced to three years in prison in an August retrial for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt.
The three Al Jazeera journalists had previously been sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges including spreading lies to help a "terrorist organization", in reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Greste was deported in February, while Sisi pardoned Fahmy and Mohamed just ahead of an Islamic celebration last month.
Asked if he thought Harper avoided taking a tougher stance for political gain, Fahmy said it was more a case of not understanding geo-political tensions between Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.
He also lashed out at Harper for his attempt to ban women from wearing the Muslim face-veil during citizenship ceremonies, which has proven pivotal in the election race.
"What he's doing with the niqab issue is unacceptable," he said.
Fahmy met Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on Monday and was due to meet New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair later on Tuesday, but said that he was not going to endorse either one. Both candidates are to the left of Harper politically.
"I have been used as a political pawn for the past two years by Egypt and Qatar, so I would surely want to avoid being placed in that frame," he said.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Christian Plumb)