When Reem Desouky arrived back in the US two Sundays ago after 10 months in Egyptian detention, one of the first things she did was hug her neighbors.
It was against social distancing guidelines, she admits, but after so long away from her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she was overjoyed to see them.
“The neighbors hug me, they don’t care about coronavirus,” Desouky said with a laugh in an interview with CNN.
The last time they had seen each other was before she and her son, Moustafa, left for a visit to Cairo in July 2019. Desouky, an Egytian-American teacher, was detained at the airport and interrogated about social media posts and her political views for days. She and her then-13-year-old son were separated, and she was imprisoned.
“It was a terrible time,” Desouky recounted. Mohamed Soltan of the human rights organization “The Freedom Initiative,” who advocated for Desouky, said that she was jailed in a section of the prison with sex workers and political prisoners.
Desouky said she was not treated well when she arrived and did not have enough food. She told CNN she was depressed and anxious and rarely saw her family – they limited their trips to the prison out of fear after her brother and cousin were arrested while visiting.
“I feel alone, no visits. My son used to come visit me with my brother-in-law every two months and I’d see him for just 10 minutes. … They said, ‘Just 10 minutes,’ and he started crying,” she recalled.
CNN has reached out to the Egyptian Embassy about Desouky’s imprisonment.
Desouky said that as coronavirus began to spread, all visits to the prison were suspended. She and some of the other prisoners began a hunger strike out of fear over the virus, and she was very concerned for her son and for the US during the outbreak.
After nearly 10 months in arbitrary detention, Desouky was given the option of release with no bail, on the condition that she would lose her Egyptian citizenship. She agreed.
Moustafa, who had previously recorded videos pleading for help to secure his mother’s release, filmed his tearful relief that she would at last be able to leave.
“After 10 months of depression, after 10 months of literally pain, it finally happened. My mother is finally out of jail,” he said in the video uploaded on May 2. “I did cry happy tears, but my mother’s finally out of jail. Thank you everyone who helped.”
On May 3, Desouky and Moustafa landed back in the US.
Desouky told CNN she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her local community – neighbors who picked her up from the airport, even though her flight landed at night, who paid bills for her and took care of her house while she was away.
“I can’t believe all these people love me and did work for me,” she said. “Glad and happy – I don’t know how to explain that feeling … now, the people here, they are my family.”