"They wanted to splash on Egyptian TV that they had caught Hamas agents," Greyson said. "Tarek had to show them how to get an audio level, as they didn't know how to use their own equipment. They didn't have a translator, so Tarek was handed the microphone. It was textbook Monty Python."
The subsequent interrogation by the police was just as bizarre: "They kept asking us what the 'secret password' was," Loubani added.
The pair was convinced that it was all just a horrible mistake and that they would be released in 24 hours. Instead, they were held for seven weeks. Canadian Embassy staff visited the two men shortly after their arrest, and the Canadian ambassador publicly called on the Egyptian government to explain why they were being detained.
The conditions within Tora Prison were deplorable. Greyson and Loubani were shaved bald, stripped, and thrown in a cockroach-infested 3-by-10-meter cell with 36 other prisoners, who slept on the bare concrete floor.
In one corner of the tiny cell was a squat toilet with a tap. "It became our kitchen, bathroom, and shower," said Greyson, who slept next to the rubbish pile. In the first month, they were allowed just six half-hour sessions out of their cell in the exercise yard.
A strong bond developed between the 38 incarcerated men, who entertained each other with nightly talks. "We had lectures on pasteurization, industrial agricultural, how to improve your CV.… I gave a talk on CPR," Loubani said.
The pair even performed a tragicomic sketch that reconstructed the circumstances of their arrest. Greyson, who doesn't speak Arabic, gave English lessons and learned calligraphy.
Using only some basic tools and their ingenuity, the inmates tried to devise some creature comforts. One 18-year-old farmer made a basic heating device from nails, wire, and bottle tops, allowing him to brew tea for his cellmates every night. The Canadians also learned the Tora tradition of making glue from boiled macaroni fermented with sugar. "It was so strong you could hang off it," Greyson said.
This allowed them to fashion hanging baskets for their belongings from fabric cut with tuna-can lids and ropes made out of twisted pants. Anything they could not make, they would get through bribes. "The whole economy of the prison is in cigarettes; it's all about Marlboro and Merits," Loubani said.
Visitors are not allowed until day 11, when vital food, toiletries, detergent, and changes of clothing are brought in by inmates' families and shared among the group. Loubani and Greyson's relatives, however, were still in Canada and unable to visit, so they were clothed by their fellow prisoners.
Despite never formally being charged, Greyson and Loubani's detention was repeatedly extended. In desperation, they started a hunger strike, which they continued for over two weeks and only stopped after winning some concessions from their jailers. By the fifth week of their incarceration, they were moved to a smaller cell, but one with just eight people in it -- mostly second-tier leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. "We were able to bribe the guard for an hour walk each day," Loubani said.
The pair smuggled out letters detailing their treatment that circulated among foreign media and fueled a campaign calling for their release, which secured over 150,000 signatures, including those from celebrities Charlize Theron and Alec Baldwin.
On Oct. 6 at 1:30 a.m., after exactly 50 days, 3 hours, and 35 minutes, Greyson and Loubani were freed. Fearful of being sent back inside Tora Prison, they spoke about their experience, but asked that the story be held until they were safely out of Egypt. The two men were briefly prevented from leaving the country, but arrived safely in Toronto on the evening of Oct. 11.
The imprisonment left a lasting impression on
the Canadian activists -- and a determination not to abandon their comrades who
remain in jail. While the Egyptian government vows to continue its "war on terror,"
Loubani and Greyson say they will speak out about what is going on behind
closed jail cell doors.
"We have this responsibility to talk," said Greyson, the night before he flew home. "But it's going to be an uphill battle to get people to listen."