TORONTO – Two activists woke up in Canada on Saturday after seven weeks in an Egyptian prison, admitting on arrival they had made many mistakes but expressing delight at being home again.
Facing a crush of media, family and supporters, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani gave thanks to those who helped win their freedom minutes after their flight from Cairo touched down Friday evening, but they also delivered a pointed political message.
“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.
The duo said they would answer questions on Saturday. Instead they tag-teamed on a 10-minute statement in the international arrivals hall at Pearson International airport.
The two said they had only planned to stop overnight in Cairo on their way to Gaza.
They said they believed that documenting the anti-government violence that erupted in the Egyptian capital Aug. 16 and tending the wounded would not arouse the wrath of authorities.
“In hindsight, it’s really obvious we made mistakes,” said Loubani, an emergency-room physician from London, Ont.
“We thought we could avoid the violence that continues to tear Egypt apart,” added Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker. “We were wrong.”
Instead, they found themselves swept up in mass arrests and imprisoned in cramped conditions. They said they were beaten and forced to sleep on the concrete with cockroaches.
They were also wrong in thinking they would be accorded due process, Greyson said.
“Believing in democracy, justice, and fairness, and the rule of law certainly does not make us members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as some suggested,” Greyson said.
Badr Abdel-Atty, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the two were accused of participating in illegal protests or resisting authorities during arrest in the midst of a protest by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
However, Abdel-Atty said Thursday the accusations against them had been dropped and the pair were cleared to leave Egypt.
Family and supporters had mounted a relentless campaign to have the Canadians freed and the pair spent several minutes thanking them.
“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.”
Greyson and Loubani said they had learned lessons from their experience — some hard and some surprising.
Among them was how 38 men from all walks of life could get along in a three-metre by 10-metre cell.
They also said they had learned that a military overthrowing an elected government is wrong, as is the killing of civilians.
They 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,” Loubani said.
They learned to make an alcoholic drink out of macaroni and sugar: “Incredibly strong — just boil it, let it ferment for three days.”
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 immediately boarding a flight out of the country after their names appeared on a “stop-list” issued by prosecutors.