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|Subject: Egyptian protesters feed off Wael Ghonim's passion Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:23 pm|| |
Egyptian protesters feed off Wael Ghonim's passion
WAEL Ghonim lacks charisma, physical presence or oratorical power.
However, the computer technician has emerged as the human face of the
uprising that is rocking Egypt, the first of a new breed of youthful
revolutionary leaders who have turned the mouse and the keyboard into
weapons powerful enough to destroy dictatorships.
An extraordinary, tearful interview Mr Ghonim had given the previous
night went viral, and the Google executive, 30, received a thunderous
reception when he appeared before another vast multitude packed into
Cairo's Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of them first-time protesters
inspired by his words. By early evening more than 150,000 people had
joined a Facebook site urging Mr Ghonim to become the voice of the
In short, this tousle-haired young man, clad in jeans, sports shirt and
baseball cap, is a nightmare for President Hosni Mubarak, 82, and a
regime that can scarcely comprehend the nature of the force it is
Mr Ghonim, who was released after 12 days' imprisonment on Monday, said
that his interrogators "could not believe young guys were doing this.
They said the Muslim Brotherhood had to be behind it."
Mr Ghonim lives in the United Arab Emirates and created a Facebook site
called "We are all Khaled Said" after the young Egyptian who was
dragged from a cafe in Alexandria and beaten to death by the police in
Working anonymously, he used the site to encourage the first huge
public protest against the regime on January 25. He was snatched on a
Cairo street two days later and held blindfolded for nearly two weeks.
Hours after his release, he appeared on Dream TV, a popular independent
Egyptian channel, and gave such a powerful and moving interview that it
may come to be seen as a turning point in the momentous drama unfolding
in this country.
Mr Ghonim was clearly exhausted, and not hugely articulate, but his
manifest frailty and passion lent his words great force. Over and over
he rebutted the regime's accusation that the protesters are
troublemakers financed and manipulated by foreign powers.
The protesters were true, patriotic Egyptians, he insisted. "If I was a
traitor, I would have stayed in my villa in the Emirates and made good
money and said, like others, 'Let this country go to hell'," he said.
Told by the interviewer that more than 300 had been killed, he broke down and wept.
The interview had been flagged up on Twitter and Facebook and was
watched by millions. It had an electrifying impact on an uprising that
entered its third week yesterday and was in danger of stalling in the
face of "concessions" by the regime and relentlessly hostile coverage
in the state media.
Hundreds of thousands poured back into Tahrir Square yesterday.
"All Egypt cried. It was like a new inspiration for the revolution," said Hisham Mohsen, 20, a medical student.
Many came to the square for the first time, convinced by Mr Ghonim that
to do so was their duty. "I wanted to come before, but when I saw the
interview I felt I had to. I felt guilty," said Mohammed Mahros, 35, a
shopkeeper who brought with him his 10-year-old son and a brother with
a placard reading: "Wael Ghonim - In our heads and in our hearts."
The protesters dismissed the latest pronouncements from Omar Suleiman,
Mr Mubarak's deputy, who said that a constitutional reform committee
had been established and that a "clear road map has been put in place
with a set timetable to realise the peaceful and organised transfer of
power". The markets were equally unforgiving, with the central bank
having to prop up the sliding Egyptian pound. The regime also announced
measures intended to stop shares plummeting when the stock exchange
reopens on Sunday.
Reinvigorated, large groups of headscarved woman marched around
chanting: "Leave, leave, Mubarak." The blood-stained shirts and
photographs of "martyrs" killed in the square last week were on
display. Young men spray-painted Google, Twitter and Facebook logos on
walls and tanks.
Late in the afternoon, Mr Ghonim addressed this deafening sea of
humanity. "I'm not a hero. You are the heroes. You're the ones who
stayed on this square," he declared. "You must insist that your demands
are met. For our martyrs, we must insist." He blamed the deaths on
those who prepared to kill to retain power, but said that the
revolution must not be used to promote ideologies or settle grudges.
The multitude roared its approval. Some wept.
Afterwards, sitting beside Khaled Said's elderly mother, he told
journalists: "I liked to call this the Facebook Revolution, but after
seeing the people out there I think it's the Egyptian people's
revolution. It's amazing."
He continued: "When I created the Facebook page I was a dreamer. Now
we're all dreamers, and today one of those dreams is coming true."
Last night the protest appeared to be spreading, with demonstrators
erecting a camp outside the Egyptian parliament. They put up a notice
saying "Closed until the system falls