E-Revolutionary Sparks Change

Wael Ghonim (MBA '08) helped galvanize the masses from the virtual to the real world

It was only a few months ago that Wael Ghonim (MBA '08) led a normal life working in the Gulf as a marketing executive for technology giant, Google. As the uprising changed the lives of many Egyptians, Ghonim was no exception. His name resonated in all corners of the globe as a leading figure behind the change in Egypt.

Born in 1980 to a middle-class family, Ghonim earned his undergraduate degree in computer science from Cairo University. He then moved on to pursue an MBA from AUC. Ghonim worked for various local Web projects before being appointed as Google Egypt's regional product and marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa. Less than two years later, he was promoted to head of marketing at Google's United Arab Emirates office in Dubai Internet City.

Ghonim, who belongs to a generation often accused of passivity and political apathy, proved that the world can be changed through the click of a button. Thanks to social media and networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Ghonim's ideas and dreams for change were well-received and gained momentum in the virtual world, and eventually transpired into actions in the real world. Ghonim's association with the Egyptian Revolution began with the creation of a Facebook group called Kolena Khaled Said (We Are All Khaled Said). The page condemned acts of police brutality against Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Alexandrian who was tortured and beaten to death by two police officers. The page solicited thousands of members and became an outlet for the Internet generation to speak out on issues of corruption, brutality, oppression and, eventually, their dreams and visions for a better tomorrow in Egypt.

On January 25, hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in response to group efforts in promoting nationwide anti-regime demonstrations. Ghonim reasoned that "breaking the psychological barrier of fear is the tipping point of any revolution in any police-driven regime led by a dictator."

On January 27, Ghonim disappeared during the political unrest in Egypt. Days later, it was revealed that he was being incarcerated by members of the security force. As the story gained international interest and with increasing pressure from the media, Ghonim was finally released 12 days after. Upon his release, he had a moving interview on Al Ashera Masa'an (10 pm), hosted by Mona El Shazly '96 on DreamTV. The episode was thought by many to have been a major driving force behind increasing numbers of protestors who had taken to the streets. Nevertheless, Ghonim insists that the success of the revolution in overthrowing the regime cannot be attributed to a single person. "The real hero is the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square and the rest of Egypt," he noted. "No one was a hero because everyone was a hero."

For Ghonim, the revolution is far from over. "This revolution is not over until democracy is enforced and until unemployment and poverty rates reach the same levels of developed countries," he said. "[Egypt] has what it takes to become the second Silicon Valley: talents in technology, infinite passion and, soon, real democracy. I believe in our nation. Egyptians will never trade away their freedom, and they will not accept cosmetic changes. I'm optimistic."

By Ghaydaa Fahim

Quotes in the article are based on Ghonim's tweets through Twitter.