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Wael Ghonim Brings Revolution 2.0 To LA

Tasbeeh Herwees |
February 7, 2012 | 1:15 a.m. PST

Senior Staff Reporter

Wael Ghonim (left), photo by Tasbeeh Herwees
Wael Ghonim (left), photo by Tasbeeh Herwees
Egyptian writer and activist Wael Ghonim was traveling abroad on his book tour when he heard about the tragic events in Port Saeed this past week. A soccer riot had claimed the lives of 74 people, inspiring protests in front of the Interior Ministry to mourn the dead and denounce the police’s use of tear gas and live fire. 

“It’s very hard to be here,” confessed Ghonim to a crowd at the Los Angeles Theatre Center Monday night, where he was promoting his new book, "Revolution 2.0." The proceeds of the book will go to charity - it was this, and the assurances of his friends in Egypt, that encouraged him to continue with the book tour. 

Despite the alarming news from Port Saeed, Ghonim’s talk, hosted by Reza Aslan, was largely optimistic about the future of Egypt and the state of the ongoing Egyptian Revolution. The ousting of Hosni Mubarak signalled only the beginning of a long road to freedom, Ghonim said.

“This revolution has given us a lot of hope that finally, we own our country,” he said. “We own the decisions that are being made in our country.”

Ghonim was light-hearted but earnest when he addressed concerns of a Muslim Brotherhood leadership. The Egyptian Brotherhood, known for its work in poor neighborhoods, won 47 percent of the Parliamentary seats in this month’s elections. 

The Brotherhood is popular because they are addressing the concerns of the Egyptian people, Ghonim said, which have less to do with foreign policy and more to do with how they’re going to put bread on the table. 

“Anyone who comes in and tries to fix the wrong problems... they are going to face anger from the people,” Ghonim said. “Poverty in Egypt is the biggest violation of human rights. If someone comes in and rescues these people I will be on their side regardless.”


Ghonim, a Google marketing executive, was jailed and interrogated for 11 days in Egypt during the Jan. 25 protests for his role in organizing demonstrations against the Mubarak regime. His Facebook page - dedicated to 28-year-old Khaled Saeed, an Egyptian man who died at the hands of Egyptian police - provided a forum for dissenting views of Egyptians fed up with the government.

“People were angry,” Ghonim said. “They knew to a larger extent this was not a single case. It was systematic, and the reason it was systematic is no one was being held accountable.”

Photos of Saeed’s beaten corpse were widely circulated among Egyptians and fomented opposition to the government and its police force. Ghonim’s Facebook page boasted hundreds of thousands of fans and became a hub of dissident organizing. 

Ghonim, an advocate of peaceful protest, was weary of demonstrations but promoted one commenter’s idea for a silent protest along the Nile. 

“It just sends a message; we’re not happy with what’s going on, we’re peaceful and we want to go back home in an hour,” he said. “People had mixed feelings [about protesting] but it activated a lot of people like me who did not want a confrontation.”

Ghonim said he never expected the protests to force out the regime, only to inspire change within a corrupt police force. But as events in Tunisia came to a critical point, Ghonim and millions of Egyptians saw a different future. 

“I saw Ben Ali, for the first time in my life, an Arab dictator, apologize to his people,” he said. “It was basically a crash course in how to topple a dictator.”

The fall of the Ben Ali regime became the turning point for the Egyptian Revolution. On Jan. 25, Ghonim was in a jail cell but hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were flooding Tahrir Square demanding the same fate for Mubarak’s government.

“Singling out someone like me, making me a hero, is pretty much unfair to millions of Egyptians,” Ghonim said. 

In the midst of ongoing protests, Ghonim said that what’s important right now is the smooth transfer of power, but he said the sight of thousands of Egyptians standing orderly in lines waiting to cast their votes is an auspicious beginning for Egypt. 

“For the first time in history,” he said, “people feel their opinion matters.”





Reach reporter Tasbeeh Herwees here. Follow her on Twitter.



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