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Wael Ghonim. Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People is Greater Than the People in Power. A Memoir. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

 

Wael Ghonim explains his part in starting a revolution in his book Revolution 2.0. A Google executive who spent a lot of time online, creating a successful website called IslamWay.com, he wasn’t politically active. The fear of the regime kept people afraid, silent, and passive. Young Egyptians frequently commented, “There’s no hope.” Dreams of obtaining an apartment to be able to get marriage were unobtainable for many. In 2010 that motivated Ghonim to set up a Facebook page for Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Many young people hoped he would run for President against Mubarak. The co-administrator of the page was a 24-year-old college student and political blogger, AbdelRahman Mansour. The page asked for signatures for seven demands for change, supported by the Muslim brotherhood. Within three months the page had over 100,000 members.

Later that year he came across a Facebook photo of a young man beaten to death by police in Alexandra. He created a page called Kullena Khaled Said, We Are All Khaled Said, although someone else had already created a similar page. He felt its tone was too aggressive. He was inspired by the movie V for Vendetta where an anonymous rebel tries to stir up revolt against the unjust government and included a clip of the film on this Khaled page. Gandhi’s non-violent resistance also inspired him, and he included quotes on the webpage. Videos of protests in Chile also gave him ideas. Its first day, 36,000 people joined Ghonim’s page, mostly under age 30. The page publicized Khaled’s funeral on June 11, attended by about a thousand people. He also posted other examples of the regime’s brutality, including photos and videos. Images have more impact than words, so he included photos of members holding a sign with the webpage name and their poetry and designs. He asked members to call TV talk shows and demand discussion of the prosecution of the police murders.

Fearful of the State Security who used torture as one of their main ways of collecting information, he kept his identity as administrator of the site secret. He used a proxy program called Tor, which constantly changed his IP address. He again asked AbdelRahman Mansour to be his co-administrator. Then he started organizing on the streets, asking “friends” of the site to stand silently, wearing black, holding the Koran or a Bible. He called these Friday protests the Silent Stand and publicized them as an “event” on Facebook in Alexandra and Cairo and with press releases. Thousands participated in June and July along with the presence of security forces in what he called “The Revolution of Silence.” Trying to overcome passivity he wrote on the page “Yes, we can.” After three months, the page had 250,000 members. In the November elections he campaigned for people to vote for “Khaled Said, the symbol of Egyptian youth,” to boycott corrupt election practices.

At the end of 2010 he decided to take advantage of a national holiday, Police Day, January 25 for another demonstration. His partner AbdelRahman suggested the idea. The other Khaled Said Facebook page, the April 6 Movement page (80,000 members), and ElBaradei campaign helped publicize the event without much coordination.

There wasn’t much enthusiasm until people were inspired by the Tunisian revolution to “break the psychological barrier of fear.” A post from a member predicted, “No one will do anything and you’ll see. All we do is post on Facebook. We are the Facebook generation. Period.”  Facebook members (700,000 of them) were asked to distribute mass text messages and paper flyers to publicize January 25. Asmaa Mahfouz made a videotaped message for people to show up, which was put on the Khaled page. A page for photographers was encouraged to attend and photograph the action. People were asked to carry the Egyptian flag but no other affiliation. They waited until midnight of January 24 to post locations so as to not give security forces much time to mobilize, and because no one was in charge, people had different ideas about where to march. Tweets were used during January 25 to further direct marchers–Ghonim had over 30,000 Twitter followers. They yelled, “The people want to topple the regime.”

Many were middle class young people who were informed by Khaled and April 6 Facebook pages as well as satellite TV news. Al Jazeera satellite TV, begun in 1996, became the most viewed channel in the Arab region and wasn’t afraid to criticize Arab leaders and helped publicize the event, as did CNN. The protests continued for 18 days, sometimes entertained by singers and telling jokes. Ghonin missed part of it when he was blindfolded and kept in a cell by the security forces. Activist Israa Abdel Fattah announced on Al Jazeera TV that no negotiations would start until Ghonim was free as he was one of the people who should represent youth. After the fall of Mubarak, Ghonim concluded, “The bottom line was that Jan25 was not the work of any political groups. It was a reaction from a generation that had been raised amid fear, failure, and passivity, a reaction mainly inspired by the events in Tunisia.”

 

 

 

Wael Ghonim spent his last two years in boys’ high school in a public school with 70 students in a class, frequent fights on the playground with a corner for smoking, and fights between students and teachers. Because their salaries are so low, teachers rely on private lessons as their main source of income as well as bribes during tests. The emphasis is on memorization rather than analysis. P. 11

 

Wael Ghonim was impressed with during his travels in the US with the quality of education and the respect for citizens’ rights including freedom of religious practice. He also met his wife in the US. However, the emphasis on individualism contrasted unfavorable with the Egyptian focus on family and other groups that create emotional warmth and social support. P. 18

 

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