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American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim tells of Cairo arrest ordeal

Jehane Noujaim, an American-Egyptian filmmaker, has been released by Egyptian authorities after being arrested while covering protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. NBC News spoke with her following her release.

CAIRO, Egypt — An American filmmaker and journalist told Friday how she was arrested and accused of throwing Molotov cocktails by the Egyptian security forces as she fled from clouds of tear gas.

Jehane Noujaim, an award-winning filmmaker best-known for her al-Jazeera TV documentary "Control Room," was seized by security forces while documenting clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

She was detained in the city's Tora prison for 36 hours without a phone and her camera was confiscated, Noujaim said in an interview with NBC News.

Noujaim, who is of Egyptian descent, was not physically harmed during her detention — in contrast to fellow American-Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy, who told msnbc.com on Thursday that riot police beat her, sexually assaulted her and dragged her by her hair.


She was near Tahrir Square on Wednesday evening to record events because she has been making a film over the past 10 months about the country's revolution and the role of activists in the now-famous street.

"With tear gas everywhere, myself and my crew got separated from each other. I was just trying to basically get out of the area because the tear gas is incredibly strong," she said.

"I ran into then one military guy ... my camera got taken, my eyepiece got broken by him, he called me a spy; whereas the rest of the military had been very helpful in getting us out of the situation, this particular military guy was absolutely not," she said.

Noujaim said it was many hours after her arrest before she was told the reason she had been detained.

After days of deadly clashes between security forces and protestors, a shaky truce seems to be sticking, but despite mounting pressure, the military says it will maintain in power until Monday's long-awaited parliamentary elections. Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Cairo.

"My charge was throwing Molotov cocktails and destroying public property," she said. "If I throw a rock I'd hit the back of the head of the protester in front of me ... that claim was so ridiculous, yet I was in prison for 36 hours because of it."

"If that happens to me, imagine what happens to a kid who gets picked up off the street who doesn't have all of these connections," she added.

"We were taken to Tora prison in one of these big blue trucks driven there and back again. Our phones were gone at this point so we weren't able to contact anybody," she said.

Hope for future
Despite her ordeal, Noujaim spoke of her belief that Egypt would soon have "systems of law" in place.

"These changes take time and I don't want to put this gigantic blame on the poor kids in the police or the poor kids in the army," she said.

"My hope is that ... people all around Egypt will soon be able to have systems of law in place, which really do protect their rights because before human rights are dealt with, before these systems of law are in place, it's very difficult to talk about democracy and politics and who one should vote for," she said.

Noujaim said the experience of being involved in the Tahrir Square protests was "indescribable."

"I don't want to say that Tahrir represents the entire country, but it does represent the hopes and the dreams of so many people in the country," she said.

"What does it accomplish, it's people out there saying that things still need to change and it's a beautiful incredible energy when you're there and you're listening to people that are willing to do whatever it takes to change the mentality and to change the systems in the country."

Edited by msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson