Wael Ghomin, a rising marketing manager at Google, has become an icon of the revolt in Egypt. His recent emotional TV appearance set off a new wave of protests calling for the immediate resignation of President Mubarak.
On Monday evening the private Egyptian television channel Dream TV broadcast an interview with an emotional man who kept insisting that he was no hero. The man on the screen was Wael Ghonim, a 30-year-old Google executive who had just spent 12 days in detention.
A hero’s welcome nonetheless awaited Ghonim at Tahrir Square the next day.
Inspired by his release and emotional TV appearance, thousands of Egyptians joined the gathering in downtown Cairo, which on Tuesday saw one of its largest days of protests since the movement to oust President Hosni Mubarak began.
Ghonim’s disappearance on January 28 precipitated a broad movement of support online. Some protesters went so far as to make his release a pre-condition for dialogue with the government.
Shortly after he was freed on Monday, Ghonim was back on the social media website Twitter, thanking Google for its efforts to find him after he was arrested. Later in the day he gave an interview that became instantly famous
Speaking about the conditions of his detention, Ghonim said he was not mistreated. However he had to repeatedly argue that he was no traitor –an accusation he heard in jail. “I can bear anything,” he said on television, “except being accused of betraying Egypt.”
He also admitted that he was the anonymous administrator of the Facebook group “We Are All Khaled Said” – one of the most influential rallying points on the Web for Egypt’s raging anti-government protesters.
By turning Khaled Said –an internet blogger who was beaten to death by police in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in June 2010 – into a symbol of Egyptian resistance, Ghonim inadvertently set himself up to become the iconof the revolt.
No Longer Behind the Keyboard
“Long live Egypt!” Ghonim yelled out to the thousands of protesters in Tahrir who rejoiced in his first public appearance the day after his release. “We will not abandon our demand, and that is the departure of the regime,” he told the crowd.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, someone in a crowd reminded Wael that 100,000 people on Facebook were asking him to be the spokesman for the uprising.
“Will you do it?” the man wanted to know.”I don’t know,” said a teary and still reluctant hero.