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Ghonim Electrified Egypt's Revolution

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
February 10, 2011


Wael Ghonim is a symbol of the revolution in Egypt.

During his highly emotive interview on a popular Egyptian show Monday night, he went out of his way to rebut the accusations made by the older generation of Mubarak's supporters that the protesters were "traitors to Egypt" and "foreign agents." These accusations were not only repeated on state media, but when Ghonim was arrested on January 28 and spent 12 nights in a Cairo prison, his fellow inmates accused him of the worst possible cultural and political trait for an Arab: khiyanah, or betrayal.

With foreign media presence and international support for the protesters, that accusation of treachery to Egypt and foreign involvement was gaining credence in many quarters in Egypt last week. Morale was slowly dropping. Then came Ghonim's explosive interview Monday night.

With one stroke, he galvanized an entire generation of Egyptians. His story is sincere and selfless: The regime's treatment of him was why millions opposed the Mubarak government. If Egyptians had forgotten, Ghonim's plight reminded them. With passion and intellectual clarity, he asked why he was arrested. Why were his frail parents not informed? His parents had wandered from hospital to hospital crying -- why hadn't police simply told them that he was in prison, and not dead?

The widespread culture of democracy activists disappearing -- or worse, being tortured and killed -- had inspired Ghonim to create a Facebook page in memory of Khalid Said, who was beaten to death by police. That page was instrumental in mobilizing a younger generation of Arabs to the January 25 protest meetings.

Ghonim's interview was cataclysmic because he was candid: He has a job abroad in the Emirates, he lives comfortably in a villa, and he has nothing personal to gain from the dangers he and his wealthy friends put themselves in. Their sacrifice was for the country and people they loved: Egypt and Egyptians. This was not treachery, but sacrifice.

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