Filmmaker Atom Egoyan and his wife, the actress Arsinée Khanjian, have joined a growing chorus of calls to release two Canadians arrested by Egyptian authorities more than a week ago.
In a brief video posted to YouTube, the Cairo-born Egoyan asks for the immediate release of "our good friends," filmmaker John Greyson (Lilies, Zero Patience), and the London, Ont.-based emergency-room physician Tarek Loubani. "These are very, very important members of our community, they're very, very dear friends, they're people of the highest, highest character, and I think this has all been a tremendous misunderstanding."
He adds: "They are exceptional human beings."
Greyson and Loubani were detained on Aug. 18 when their supporters say they got lost in Cairo and wandered into a police station to ask for directions. They were arrested along with seven other foreigners, none of whom have been charged. Despite protests by the Canadian government, Egyptian prosecutors last week obtained an order permitting the men to be held for an additional 15 days without charge.
The men had arrived in Cairo intending to continue on to Gaza, where Dr. Loubani trains physicians in advanced cardiac and trauma life support, but the turmoil in Egypt had delayed their travel.
On Tuesday, a Globe and Mail editorial called for their immediate release, saying that keeping them in prison "is indefensible."
In the YouTube video, which has been posted on TarekandJohn.com, a website advocating for their release, the Beirut-born Khanjian greets viewers in Arabic and explains that she is good friends with the two men. She then adds in English: "They have been very actively important members of our community, as artists, as members of our civil society, they have represented our culture, our arts, and – in the case of Tarek – the sciences in this country."
"We are not only proud of them but we love them as friends, we expect them to be safe and sound back to Canada, and we are looking forward that you would do everything possible to make this happen, because they are very important lives to be saved and celebrated with joy and not with dread."
A petition on Change.org calling on the Canadian government to "help free Tarek and John" had more than 82,000 names as of noon on Tuesday.
The men are expected to appear before an Egyptian prosecutor on Wednesday afternoon to present documents proving they were not part of the anti-government protests that have roiled Egypt this summer.