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Keyboard freedom fighter

Internet revolutionary


Wael Ghonim, poster boy for Egypt's Arab Spring, proves uprisings too can be 'liked, shared & tweeted'.

The accidental facilitator of the anti-Mubarak movement, Wael Ghonim, had a life many aspire to in Egypt. He was overseeing Google's marketing for the entire Middle East division, was married with an eight-year-old daughter, and had a villa in Dubai.
His world changed in June 2010, with a post on his Facebook wall. It was the photograph of the dead body of a young Egyptian businessman-turned-activist, Khaled Said, who died in police custody. The photo caused a rupture in the apolitical life of this prosperous, introverted computer engineer and what he thought about his homeland. It was thus that Ghonim set up a Facebook page, We are all Khaled Said, which became a rallying point for the campaign against police brutality.

For many Egyptians, who much like Ghonim didn't engage in political matters, it revealed details of the extent of torture in their country. To Ghonim, who was always fascinated by the internet, the page was the perfect place to voice his dissent.

It took just one week for the Khaled Said Facebook page to attract one lakh members, and Ghonim now had a community of outrage. The 31-year-old helped organise demonstrations through his page but remained anonymous because he didn't want to be discovered by Egyptian authorities.

By now, the Middle East had turned into a hotspot for political activism. Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia in early January 2011. Inspired by Tunisian protestors, Ghonim rallied to celebrate the 'Day of the revolution against torture, poverty, corruption, and unemployment' on January 25. The invitation reached over a million people. The protests began at Tahrir Square on January 25 and, this time, Ghonim stepped out to be a part of the movement on the ground.

Two nights later, Ghonim was kidnapped by the police on the streets of Cairo. He spent 11 days in prison, where, he said, he was threatened with torture but not actually hurt. After being freed, he appeared on one of Egypt's most watched talk shows.

"This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, which became the revolution of the youth of Egypt, then the revolution of Egypt itself, " he said. "I'm not a hero, I slept for 12 days, " he continued. "The heroes, they're the ones who were in the streets, who took part in the demonstrations, sacrificed their lives. "

On the show, he was shown videos of those who had died during the protests. He burst into tears, held the authorities responsible for the brutality. "Ghonim's tears moved millions and turned around the views of those who supported (Mubarak) sttaying, " masrawy. com wrote after the inerview.

The success of the revolution bespoke the unimaginable reach of social media. Ghonim was named one of Time magazine's Top 100 most influential people of 2011 and was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2011. But the 'keyboard freedom fighter' has come under criticism for failing to publicly remedy doubts about the genesis of the We are all Khalid Said Facebook page, which is believed to have had at least one more initiator. There was also a major campaign on Twitter criticising Ghonim for various failings and an exaggerated focus on the Egyptian economy. Ghonim himself voiced concerns over failing to achieve a 'better Egypt' after the Muslim Botherhood came into power.

Recently, Ghonim asked Islamist president Mohammed Morsi to step down ahead of planned protests to force him out on June 30. In an online video message, Ghonim accused Morsi of reneging on promises made ahead of his 2012 election. The people of Egypt rose again on June 30 and on July 3 Egypt's army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced that Morsi was under house arrest. After Mubarak was ousted, Ghonim had tweeted, "I said 1 year ago that internet will change the political scene in Egypt and some friends made fun of me ... Jan 25 proved you wrong. Revolution can be a Facebook event that is liked, shared & tweeted. " This time, too, the Tamarod is being liked, shared and tweeted.

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