The Unwilling Revolutionary: Egyptian Activist Wael Ghonim’s Quest for Peace - News - International
One year ago, Egyptian Internet activist Wael Ghonim quickly became the face of the uprising. But he was never comfortable with the role and would still prefer to retreat into the crowd. The digital world is his comfort zone.
He has stuck his white headphones into his ears so that no one talks to him, he is looking at the ground so that no one recognizes him, and he is walking briskly so that no one stops him. But everyone in Egypt knows Wael Ghonim, and some call him the face of the revolution. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Time counts him among the 100 most influential people in the world.
But Ghonim doesn’t like all the attention. It makes him feel uncomfortable, and he believes that it is bad for him. He starts walking faster. It’s only a few blocks from his parents’ apartment in Cairo’s Muhandisin neighborhood to the offices of a PR company he has hired to keep the press at bay.
It is the period surrounding the anniversary of the revolution that began on Jan. 25, 2011, the day Ghonim had spent so much time and effort working to achieve, a day that ultimately led to the revolution. There is a strange tension in the air over Cairo. On the one hand, the first freely elected parliamentmet for the first time in this last week of January. On the other hand, it is dominated by Islamists. On the one hand, the military council lifted Egypt’s emergency laws, in place since 1981, to mark the anniversary of the revolution. On the other hand, there are angry demonstrations against the military government almost every day. Ghonim has a lot on his plate — and then he has written a book, which has just been published.
It’s called “Revolution 2.0.” In it, Ghonim describes how he came to the revolution, how he guided the protests through the Internet, and how agents working for then President Hosni Mubarak’s state security service tracked him down, jailed, isolated and interrogated him. By the time he was released, the country was no longer the same. And then Ghonim found out that he was partly responsible for it.
The book is interesting because it finally tells the story behind sayings like the “Internet revolution” and the “Facebook youth,” which the West has used to explain the toppling of the regime in Egypt. Until it was published, no one but a few computer nerds truly understood the significance of people coordinating their plans on the Internet and then taking to the streets to protest.
Lack of an Icon
Besides, to this day the Arab revolutions lack an icon, a figure with whom we can identify its stories so that we can understand them better.
Stories without characters are not as compelling, which is one reason why people in the West have now somewhat lost their sense of connection to the Arab spring. There is no Danton, no Gandhi, no Dutschke, no Che Guevara, and not even someone like the former East German artist and activist Bärbel Bohley. The revolution has no face.
For the West, Ghonim was the most appealing candidate for the role of symbolic figure. He seemed modern, well-educated, morally upright and not overly radical — living proof, in other words, that Western values could indeed bring down an Arab dictatorship.