Six months ago Wael Ghonim was a lucky guy. Just three years after earning his MBA from the American University in Cairo he was working in Dubai as Google’s Head of Marketing for all of North Africa and the Middle East. He was recently married to an American woman and they lived well in Dubai with their two small children.
But last month Ghonim took a leave of absence from Google and applied for an emergency visa to return home to Cairo because of a “personal issue.”
Then he disappeared.
A few weeks later Egyptian police arrested him and jailed him for 12 days as one of the leaders of the social media campaign to bring down the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. As it happened, Ghonim had been organizing young people through Facebook, Twitter and SMS texting to focus the anger and resentment felt by the people of Egypt, especially young people like him in Cairo. Many are well educated and many more had ready access to computers and smartphones. Internet cafes teemed in every corner of the city. And right below the noses of the police and the government Ghonim and his collaborators were building social networks, extending the social graph of dissent across the capitol of the largest Arab country in the world.
Ghonim returned to Egypt because the time had come to translate the virtual into the real: demonstrations were beginning, focussed on Freedom Square in the heart of Cairo, on the banks of the Nile River. Ghonim wanted to be there.
Harry Smith of CBS produced an extraordinary interview with Ghonim in which he recounts how the social media revolution took place this past month that resulted in the collapse of the government and the peaceful resignation of Mubarak. The interview is worth watching not only to witness the personal courage that Ghonim showed throughout these past years as an online organizer, but also to see how the power of the Internet works in destabilizing established order and replacing it with rapidly evolving new ideas:
Ghonim has taken a leave of absence from Google. No doubt management at Google would prefer if governments around the world didn’t think it was the company’s policy to destabilize regimes and overthrow autocrats. But there have to be a few people walking the halls of Google in Mountain View giving high fives to each other in honor of a colleague who understood the power of the Internet and used it to bring a fragile democracy to Egypt.
- First Tunisia, Now Egypt, What’s Next? Wael Ghonim Says “Ask Facebook” (mediaite.com)
- Wael Ghonim: If You Want To Liberate A Government, Give Them The Internet (techcrunch.com)
- Wael Ghonim and Egypt’s New Age Revolution (cbsnews.com)
- Egypt: Google ‘very, very proud’ of cyber revolutionary (telegraph.co.uk)