Two Canadians held without charge for seven weeks in an Egyptian prison have been released from custody, but they are still awaiting arrangements to be made for a flight home, a friend told CBC News on Sunday.
Confirmation that John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were granted their freedom came from Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Lynne Yelich late Saturday.
Cecilia Greyson, John's sister, says she spoke with her brother for about 10 minutes.
"I didn't even realize he was going to call. I just picked up the phone and it was his voice," she told CBC News on Sunday afternoon. "They were in good shape and they were really happy. I could tell John and Tarek were both excited and couldn't wait to get home."
Greyson said she had no warning about the release.
"He was cracking jokes. It was so great to hear him laugh," she said.
"Relieved. Ecstatic. Lots of tears of joy," Eman Loubani, Tarek's sister, told CBC News when asked about the reaction of her family. Speaking from London, Ont., she said she had a "five-second conversation" with her brother and said "he sounded in good spirits."
"All that matters is they are safe and sound and they will heal," she said.
Loubani's family felt a "debt of gratitude" towards consular staff in Egypt who worked "tirelessly," she said.
"I'm just hoping I'll be able to give my brother and John a big hug soon," she said.
The two men remain in Egypt, according to their friend and spokesman in Canada, Justin Podur.
"They have the passports," Podur told CBC News. "They're now waiting for permission to leave the country."
- Read Loubani's and Greyson's full statement on their arrest
Podur said he didn't believe the men would be freed even though some of those around him felt it might be imminent.
"There were so many false starts and so many of these psychological games," said Podur.
Cecilia called the experience a "roller-coaster ride."
"We just never knew what was going around the corner," she said. "It was really hard to keep our positive energy, our momentum going."
Facilitating their departure
Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and professor at York University, and Tarek Loubani, an emergency ward doctor from London, Ont., were arrested Aug. 16 during violent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo.
"I look forward to Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson being reunited with their families and friends, who have shown tremendous strength during this difficult time," Yelich said in a statement.
"We are facilitating Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson's departure from Egypt," the statement said.
- Canadians detained in Egypt end hunger strike
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also welcomed the news of their release, issuing a statement from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur where he was holding trade talks before heading to Bali for an APEC summit.
"The government of Canada has obviously been pushing for that and welcomes this decision by the government of Egypt and we look forward to seeing these two Canadian citizens return home in the not too distant future."
Greyson and Loubani were released Sunday morning — Cairo time.
No charges laid
Before their arrest, Greyson and Loubani said they were planning to stay in Cairo only briefly on their way to Gaza.
They issued a statement from prison last month indicating they had decided to check out protests that were close to their hotel and saw at least 50 protesters killed. Loubani stopped to treat some injured protesters and Greyson filmed the carnage.
Their statement said that after leaving the scene of the protests they asked police for directions and were stopped and beaten and taken into custody.
Subsequently Egyptian prosecutors accused them of "participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood" in an attack on a police station, but never laid any charges.
The two Canadians said they spent most of their time crammed with other inmates in a filthy, cockroach-infested prison cell as they awaited word on their fate.
The pair staged a 16-day hunger strike to try to pressure Egyptian officials to release them, but started eating food again last week.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the Canadian government is doing "absolutely everything it can" to secure the pair's release.
Baird spoke with his Egyptian counterpart for an hour late last month lobbying on the two men's behalf.
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