John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were greeted with cheers and applause Friday night upon returning to Canada after a “long and frightening” seven-week ordeal that saw them held without charge in Egypt.
“We’re delighted to be here, to be free. We’re nervous to be home," Loubani told a crowd of friends, supporters and media upon arriving, with Greyson, at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
'We thought we could avoid the violence that continues to tear Egypt apart. We were wrong.' - Tarek Loubani
"After 50 days in Tora prison, five days not being able to fly out of Cairo, here we are," he added. “We’re home because of the work of many thousands of people from all walks of life, from all stripes of the political spectrum, from Canada, from Egypt and from around the world.
“There was outrage at our arbitrary arrest and [they] spoke out for our release," he said.
Greyson and Loubani flew out of Cairo at about 9:40 a.m. local time Friday and landed in Toronto shortly before 7 p.m. ET.
They read a prepared statement thanking those who helped secure their release, admitting to mistakes, and making political points, before being escorted away by police.
“In hindsight it’s obvious we made mistakes, said Loubani. “In medicine we try to embrace our mistakes, to own them, to articulate them, to learn from them. We try to make them sound fancy. We don’t call them mistakes. We call them critical errors. We made quite a few.”
“We thought we could avoid the violence that continues to tear Egypt apart. We were wrong.”
Touching on their political motivations, Greyson criticized Western countries for failing to denounce the violence of the Egyptian government against its citizens.
“The overthrow of an elected government by a military is wrong. Killing of civilians is wrong. Believing in democracy, justice and fairness certainly does not make us members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as some suggested,” said Greyson.
Singing with cellmates
Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker, and Loubani, a London, Ont., doctor, had been in the country since their arrest in mid-August. The two were arrested after being caught up in violent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo, but never faced any formal charges.
They say they were detained in harsh conditions and spent most of their time in a cockroach-infested cell with dozens of other inmates.
Greyson says he talked regularly with a handful of cellmates who spoke "high school English," one of whom even memorized Greyson's entire family tree — and corrected him when he got his sister's age wrong.
Greyson says the entire cell sang happy birthday when he told them he'd missed his two daughters' birthdays.
Loubani says that he and Greyson bonded deeply, although they had occasional flare-ups over how they would position themselves sleeping on the cramped, concrete floor and even over how Loubani prepared their meagre meals.
Greyson and Loubani were suddenly released from prison last weekend, raising hopes their return to Canada was imminent. At Cairo's airport, however, they were not allowed to board a flight to Germany and were told their names were on a no-fly list.
Before making their way back to Canada, the men had been living in a Cairo hotel while lawyers pushed for their release.