A relieved Tarek Loubani was headed to a plane out of Cairo on Friday morning, saying he and friend John Greyson owe their freedom, from what he believes was simply arbitrary imprisonment, to the many people who raised alarms.
The two spent 53 days in an Egyptian jail, arrested but not charged, before their release Sunday, and then were barred from leaving the country until receiving official word Thursday they could go.
“I’m really relieved. My father’s here,” Dr. Loubani, a London, Ont. physician, said in a phone interview from Cairo as he prepared to fly home. After the weeks in jail, the arrival of his father, Dr. Mahmoud Loubani, a few days ago was, he believes, one of the turning points that led Egyptian authorities to let them go home.
“There were a lot of reasons why we were released, and my father’s one. He was able to put a human face on this, and do it in Arabic,” he said. But he credited the many people in Canada who campaigned for their release, “and just fairness,” with getting them out: “We owe all these people our freedom.”
The two men had travelled to Cairo planning to go to Gaza, where Dr. Loubani, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian refugee, travelled regularly to teach emergency medicine at al-Shifa hospital, and Mr. Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker, planned to make a short film of his work, but they found the border closed. They witnessed a violent protest where Dr. Loubani tended wounded – and were arrested when they asked police for directions.
Dr. Loubani believes that it was never real suspicions – that they were part of the protest, or of his plans to go to Gaza, that kept them in jail. Instead, he said, they were caught up in Egypt’s “very arbitrary penal system. It’s just sort of throw people in and turn the key.”
“Arbitrary detention is exactly what they did to us,” he said. “And then we were arbitrarily released.”
He said the two decided to witness a protest at Cairo’s Ramses Square – one he never imagined would turn so bloody, with over 100 dead – and he ended up treating a severely wounded man, and looking for a place to take him.
“One of the people that was carrying him suggested a mosque. We were the first ones in,” he said. “Before this guy dies, while I was working on him, the mosque was full.”
“It was a massacre.”
Dr. Loubani, who said he abhors violence, said he and Mr. Greyson never took part in the protest by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Absolutely not. I’m very cognizant that I’m not an Egyptian” he said. “I was there to witness, more than anything else.”
Dr. Loubani said he never expected problems in Egypt, and was more worried about trouble in Gaza, with Hamas, because his liberal views clashed with their conservative views of society.
He had bought wireless routers and two small remote-control helicopter “drones” to test the delivery of medical supplies – which he said he declared at the border – but he said for a long time Egyptian authorities showed little interest in that, and more in the footage Mr. Greyson shot at the protest.
When they were transported to prison, the welcome by officers was violent, he said. “They beat the shit out of us,” he said, adding that the officers told each other not to hit in the face. “They accidentally cracked one of my ribs. But they didn’t mean to. They were going for one of my kidneys.”
After that, crammed into a crowded cell, they were interrogated regularly, but it appeared to have little purpose, he said. The only real official interrogation for the investigation took place on their first day in jail.
“After that, these people would pull you out for interrogations,” he said. He’d be accused of working for both Hamas and their arch enemy, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, he said.
“It became immediately obvious we had nothing to do with anything. They just wanted to find a meaning for our arrest, so they would pull us out.”
On the day the two launched a hunger strike, Sept. 16, a prison intelligence officer interrogated him for two and a half hours, asking him about the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. “It started out as an interrogation, and then it descended into, if he could he would burn us alive, and that he had no use for people like me.”
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this online story incorrectly said Tarek Loubani is a refugee from Gaza. In fact, he is a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian refugee. This story has been corrected.