TORONTO – Saying “we owe you our freedom,” two Canadians who spent seven weeks in an Egyptian prison returned home to Canada on Friday evening expressing gratitude to everyone who fought for their release.
John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were warmly greeted by family and friends when they arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport.
“We’re delighted to be here, to be free,” Loubani said.
“We want to thank our friends, our families — those people who stood by us were steadfast in their belief that we were innocent,” Loubani said.
“Your hard work mattered, your voice mattered, it made a difference, we owe you our freedom,” he said.
Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and professor, and Loubani, a London, Ont., doctor, were arrested Aug. 16 after they said they went to check out anti-government protests in Cairo.
Greyson said they were detained without charges after being “swept up in a brutal roundup.”
“We were beaten, we were housed in very cramped conditions, sleeping on the concrete with cockroaches,” he said. “We sometimes despaired, sometimes quarrelled.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other government officials waged an aggressive campaign for their release, which came last weekend.
But they were prevented from boarding a flight out of the country that same day after their names appeared on a “stop-list” issued by prosecutors.
Badr Abdel-Atty, Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the two were accused of participating in illegal protests and or resisting authorities during arrest, like many others during a protest by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
But Abdel-Atty said Thursday that accusations against them had been dropped and the pair had been cleared to leave Egypt.
The two Canadians said Loubani heeded a call for a doctor and began treating wounded demonstrators while Greyson recorded the unrest on video.
The two have said they only intended to stay overnight in Cairo on their way to Gaza and acknowledged on Friday it was unwise for them to take a look at the protests in the Egyptian capital.
“In hindsight it’s really obvious we made mistakes,” Loubani said, who admitted they misjudged how Egyptian authorities would view their actions.
Loubani said he learned some practical things during their imprisonment such as how to make a jailhouse kettle out of “two nails, two bottle caps and some wire.”
“I can show you if you’re interested,” he said to reporters.
He also said they learned to make an alcoholic drink out of macaroni and sugar: “Incredibly strong — just boil it, let it ferment for three days.”
Greyson did touch on politics in their news conference following their arrival in Toronto.
“We call out the collusion of Western powers seemingly unwilling to denounce military violence against peaceful citizens, and perhaps most crucially on the ongoing role of billions in U.S. military aid … that is helping return Egypt to a nightmare of military dictatorship,” Greyson said.