After 53 days detained in Egypt, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani have lost and gained – gone is the footage Mr. Greyson said he shot of Dr. Loubani treating wounded protesters, and gained is a sense of obligation to help the hundreds arrested that same August day but who remain imprisoned.
In a sit-down interview at Mr. Greyson’s Toronto home Sunday morning, the men said the embassy in Cairo is trying to retrieve the footage from the prosecutor’s office, but they expressed little hope. “We’re doubtful we’ll see the footage again,” Mr. Greyson said, sipping coffee at his dining-room table, strewn with his sketches of prisoners he drew on the backs of cigarette boxes.
The men said they travelled to Cairo with the intent of entering Gaza, where Mr. Greyson planned to make a film about the work of Dr. Loubani, an activist of Palestinian descent who travelled regularly to teach emergency medicine at al-Shifa hospital. With the border closed because of weeks of unrest in Egypt, which is under emergency military law, they decided to “check out” a protest in a downtown square.
On their way back to their hotel, they were arrested – along with roughly 600 others that day. And now, with freedom and Thanksgiving weekend upon them, the men say they feel a responsibility to give voice to those still behind bars and, in Dr. Loubani’s case, ensure prisoners receive proper medical treatment in Canada and elsewhere.
“They made us promise,” Mr. Greyson said, adding that the pair are considering a legal fund. “They said, ‘You’ve got to tell our stories.’ For them, there was that feeling, ‘Nobody’s listening. We’re really disappearing in here.’ ”
Mr. Greyson, 53, and Dr. Loubani, 32, were slated to attend a “victory party” with supporters Sunday afternoon. This Thanksgiving – and many more to come, Mr. Greyson said – would be about giving thanks to all who campaigned for their release.
Less than 48 hours after their return, the men were tired and looked thin. But for about an hour at Mr. Greyson’s home, which is adorned with a pressed-tin ceiling and features a front door with playful peepholes that look like bullet holes from afar, they spoke energetically – joking around and laughing, at times. They pushed back at the notion they’re irresponsible agitators. “The last thing we wanted was trouble,” Dr. Loubani said.
And they discussed the implications of Mr. Greyson’s well-known homosexuality. “We debated it a lot,” Mr. Greyson said of discussions in Egypt with his lawyer and Dr. Loubani. “Would it be an argument in our defence? We were being accused of being international mercenaries and terrorists and Hamas members and Muslim Brotherhood members. … And the idea of a gay Canadian filmmaker being recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood – not that likely.” But Mr. Greyson said they ultimately decided his sexuality would work against them, fearing the prosecutor might say, “‘Aha, this guy is coming to corrupt our pure Egyptian society.’”
Looking forward, he said he’d return to teaching at York University and set about finishing a film on “queer activism in support of Palestine in relation to the boycott movement” against Israel. Dr. Loubani is keen to return to his practice in London, Ont., and said he’ll think carefully about whether he’ll return to Gaza.