Sarah Attia (ChemE MASc 0T5) and her husband Khaled Al-Qazzaz (MIE MASc 0T3) recently visited the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry to thank the Department for its support. This past summer, Al-Qazzaz was reunited with Attia and their four children after he spent three years trapped in Egypt, much of it in a cell.
In 2013, Al-Qazzaz was arrested in Egypt while serving as an aide to ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. He was held for months in secret.
“I had no idea where he was, what was going to happen to him, and when we would ever see him again,” says Attia. “I spent weeks not knowing anything about him with no end in sight. Those were the most difficult nights of my life.”
Even after she learned where he was being held, she realized she would need help getting him released.
“I almost completely lost hope,” she says.
She returned to Canada to look for help. In April 2014, she held her first press conference at Queen’s Park. At the back of the crowd that had gathered, she saw a familiar face. Her MASc supervisor, Prof. Greg Evans, was there to support her.
“It had been years since I had seen Prof. Evans,” she says. “Looking up and seeing him that day gave me a new sense of hope and motivation. It was people like him who gave me the strength to continue.”
Prof. Evans continued to advocate for her and Al-Qazzaz after the press conference. He circulated petitions, wrote letters to MPs, and , signed – along with ChemE Chair Grant Allen and fourteen other U of T faculty members – an open letter calling for the release of Al-Qazzaz.
“Our relationship with our students does not end with graduation,” says Prof. Evans. “When they push for positive change anywhere in the world, we want them to know that we are interested and will do what can to help.”
It wasn’t just faculty. U of T alumni, including Attia’s former classmate Badi Khan (ChemE 0T2, MASc 0T4), came together to form the Friends and Family Campaign team calling for the freedom of Khaled AlQazzaz.
“The assistance I received from the U of T community was truly touching,” says Attia. “If it wasn’t for their continued advocacy my family would not be united back in Canada today.”
Motivated by the growing support for Al-Qazzaz across Canada, the Canadian government lobbied for, and eventually secured his release and safe return to Canada.
“Khaled and I are so grateful to everyone who stood by us,” says Attia. “We have become much stronger as a family and cherish every moment we spend together.”