Warning: Skirt Egypt
"The wounded and dying never stopped coming. Between us, we saw over 50 Egyptians die; students, workers, professionals, professors, all shapes, all ages, unarmed."They travelled to Egypt, two Canadians who meant to embark on a humanitarian mission. As it turned out they did just that, only it wasn't the mission they had envisioned that they would be involved with. They had meant -- an emergency-room physician of Palestinian birth, now a Canadian, and a gay film producer -- to re-visit Gaza, and there Dr. Loubani meant to do some teaching at the hospital he had previously visited.
[Stopped at a police checkpoint] "arrested searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a 'Syrian terrorist', slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries ... They screamed 'Canadian' as they kicked and hit us."
Statement: John Greyson, Tarek Loubani
And his friend, John Greyson, would film Dr. Loubani in action. The emphasis to be on the isolation of Gaza's Palestinian population. Hamas, the ruling Islamists whose charter expressed the intention of destroying the State of Israel to restore the territory to the Palestinians not presenting a problem to them. The problem lay with the 'occupiers', the Israeli Defence Forces whose occupation status resulted from that very declaration of annihilation accompanied by Hamas terror attacks on Israel.
Their plans went awry when they discovered that resulting from the unrest in Egypt where the military had deposed the elected Muslim Brotherhood majority from power along with President Mohammad Morsi, an outbreak of violence had erupted in the Sinai, necessitating closure of passage into Gaza. Alternatively, the two visitors to Egypt thought it might be instructive to view the protests in downtown Cairo. Mr. Greyson took his camera and Dr. Loubani his professional experience.
In the melee of violence that they witnessed, Dr. Loubani responded to his professional code and gave assistance to the wounded, while Mr. Greyson videoed the violence that took possession of the area. "This footage shows the Egyptians in a negative light. That's why they are holding John and Tarek", remarked Mr. Greyson's sister in Halifax. "We assume that this evidence is unflattering to the Egyptian government, to put it mildly."
The two were arrested, though not yet charged with a crime. Hundreds were arrested that day of August 16, when a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protests against the military brought the authority of the military down on them. Potential charges that may be lodged against them are listed as arson, conspiracy, terrorism, and attacking a police station. If charges are laid they can expect two years in prison before a trial. Without charges the two Canadians are still looking at six months of detention on a felony under Egyptian law.
Dr. Loubani will not be visiting the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza to continue his work on cardiac life support services, after all. Mr. Greyson's film equipment has been seized with its damning footage of the very events leading to their arrest; he may or may not recover his belongings when and if they are eventually released. But it seems unlikely, given the content.
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs met with his Egyptian counterpart in an effort to plead for their safe passage back to Canada on release from the Egyptian jail where they remain incarcerated. Mr. Baird felt he had a sympathetic hearing on behalf of the two, as a result of his "high-level engagement". Within hours of that meeting news arrived that the detention was to be extended into November.
Leaving the two unfortunates in a notorious prison facility in south Cairo called the Tora, criticized by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, citing its lack of sunlight and poor ventilation. The high security section of the prison is suspected of holding torture chambers. But this is a critical time in Egypt, when the majority of the population believes it has rightfully authorized its military to fight the threat of internal political Islamism.
"This is the way coups operate. A coup always ends like this. The net grows wider, and the description of the enemies gets broader because militaries see enemies. As long as Canadians are being held without trial, there needs to be a strong warning to Canadians not to go to Egypt because it's not safe", cautioned Professor Bessma Momani, expert on Egyptian politics at the University of Waterloo.