How one Egyptian sold a revolution on the Web

LOS ANGELES Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:26pm EST

Internet activist Wael Ghonim of Egypt participates in a panel discussion on youth, jobs and growth in the Middle East and North Africa, during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, April 15, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Internet activist Wael Ghonim of Egypt participates in a panel discussion on youth, jobs and growth in the Middle East and North Africa, during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, April 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Wael Ghonim doesn't like being called an activist. The 31-year-old Google employee says he's no different than other Egyptians who took part in the 2011 protests spurred by a Facebook page he created that forced then-president Hosni Mubarak to step down.

"I'm just someone with access to the Internet who has a few marketing skills," Ghonim said.

Nearly a year after Egyptians streamed into Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand democracy, Ghonim recounts his experience in "Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People is Greater than the People in Power: A Memoir" which was published this week

Though he had never been very interested in politics, in the summer of 2010 Ghonim found himself in tears over the beating death of fellow citizen Khaled Said at the hands of government security forces.

Distressed that such events were not uncommon in his country, he anonymously created a Facebook page that he named "We Are All Khaled Said".

The page grew quickly, and members began brainstorming ways to spread awareness of Said's case and seek justice. Several weeks later, the group held its first offline event, a "silent stand" where members dressed in black and stood silently along certain roads in Cairo and Alexandria.

Ghonim said connecting on Facebook helped Egyptians muster the confidence to come together in the streets.

"One big value of tools like social networking is that you find that you are not alone in your beliefs," he told Reuters.

"The more people who believe in the cause, the more confident everyone will be. The Internet has offered collaboration and communication between many Egyptians which was not available at this scale with traditional media."

MARKETING CHANGE

Through the Facebook page, Ghonim used his marketing skills to build confidence and enthusiasm, posting messages, taking polls, and encouraging members to upload videos and photos.

"It was basically as if we were marketing a product, and the product was change," he said.

As the page attracted more members and ramped up its events roster, Ghonim reached out to blogger and Facebook friend AbdulRahman Mansour to help him manage the page.

Like Ghonim and Mansour, most members were young. Ghonim's research found that 81 percent of members were under 30-years-old and that half were aged 18-24.

"The youth did play a great role in sparking the revolution," he said. "The older generations are more conservative, and less willing to take risks."

Along with social networking and large numbers of youth, Ghonim credits the ouster of Tunisian President Ben Ali as the final push toward revolution in Egypt. Soon after Ben Ali abdicated power on January 14, 2011, calls for revolution intensified, and preparations began for the day they collectively referred to as "Jan25".

However, Ghonim would barely witness the beginning of the revolution. On his way home from a business dinner on January 27, he was tackled and hauled off by Egyptian government security forces. He was kept blindfolded and in captivity for the next 11 days.

But it was too late. The fire of revolution had been sparked. Ghonim sees the overturning of the Egyptian government under Mubarak as the "2.0" version of political change.

"In revolutions before, there was a Gandhi, there was a Martin Luther King," he explained. "In our revolution, there wasn't. What there was, were a lot of faceless, nameless individuals who all collaborated and communicated and reached toward their goals -- without a leader."

Ghonim's book ends with the overthrow of Mubarak but he says the revolution's struggle continues today. Many Egyptians are frustrated with the pace of change and concerned about the upcoming presidential elections in June.

"Without the complete transition of power, we run the risk of reproducing the old regime in a new chief," he said.

Still, he remains optimistic about the future.

"Egyptians are becoming so connected and so empowered," he said. "Many of them are becoming active in political life, which is something we have not seen in ages. If a couple of years back someone told me that all of this was all going to happen within 12 months in Egypt, I would have never thought it would be."

(Editing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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