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The public face of protest in Egypt: Wael Ghonim

Wael Ghonim has become the public face of the protests against the ruling regime in Egypt. An early organizer, he galvanized the public a second time via a widely viewed video made after he left police custody.

Wael Ghonim

The mediagenic manager has become the face of a movement

Ghonim's appearance on Egyptian private TV channel Dream TV was a moving one. He gave an interview right after he got out of police custody, where he had spent 12 days. During that time, no one knew of his whereabouts.

In the emotional interview, Ghonim fought to find words and even wept.

"All mothers and fathers who lost sons - to them I want to say: I am so sorry! But it was not our mistake. It was the mistake of those who abuse power, and who want to cling to their power," he told his interviewer.

Wael Ghonim addressing crowds in Tahrir Square

Ghonim has given voice to a generation.

From the beginning, blogger Ghonim was a leading organizer of the demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square against authoritarian President Mubarak, who ran the Egyptian government for three decades until demonstrators forced him to step down on February 11. The young Egyptian spent 12 days in prison, and reappeared on Monday, February 7.

Charismatic figure

On Tuesday, February 8, the crowd cheered him on as he gave a speech on Tahrir Square - the epicenter of the protest movement that continues to keep the world spellbound. He seemed to be just what they wanted: a charismatic leader and figure that people could identify with - a public face for a broader societal problem.

To those who call him a hero, however, Ghonim had a message: "We Egyptians love heroes, but I am really not a hero! I spent 12 days sleeping. The heroes are the young people who went out on the streets, who took part in the demonstrations, who sacrificed their lives, who were beaten and arrested, who risked their lives, and put themselves in danger."

Ghonim giving his emotional interview on Dream TV

'The heroes are the ones in the street,' the jailed activist said in his TV interview

Ghonim said he was opposed to any negotiations with the current government as long as Mubarak was in power. In the interview, he urged the demonstrators not to give up, telling Egyptian youth: "this is your land."

The 30 year old Facebook activist and father of two is a marketing manager for Google for the Middle East and North Africa. He's been politically active for a year. Under the pseudonym Al-Shahid, Arabic for martyr, he called for protests against the repressive regime, becoming one of the resistance movement's main initiators.

New media played a role

His Facebook page, "We are all Khaled Said" plays a key role in the movement. The page is named for a blogger who was beaten to death by the secret police in June, 2010, in Alexandria. He says he didn't suspect that his site and Internet campaign could set off such an intense political reaction among democracy advocates.

Ghonim seems to have accepted the mantle of his new role. On Wednesday, he urged young demonstrators and established opposition parties to agree to specific political demands. On a recently created Facebook page, he got more than 150,000 votes within 25 hours, to be "spokesman" for the Egyptian protest movement.

Thousands of protesters on Tahrir Square

Ghonim has urged protesters not to give up

Already, Ghonim is an important symbolic figure. He is popular, he gets people excited about his cause, and his emotional television appearances lent him a very human element, bringing him a lot of public sympathy. Whether or not he can lead a multifaceted mass movement, and whether he can hold his own in political power struggles, has yet to be determined. In any case, he seems to have the fighting spirit necessary for the job.

Author: Loay Mudhoon (jen)
Editor: Michael Knigge

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