Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The struggle continues: Wael Ghonim becomes a hero

Wael Ghonim and somebody's mother in Tahrir Square

Despite disappointingly limp or counterproductive responses from the Obama Administration and continuous propaganda efforts by the Mubarak regime to dismiss the Egyptian youth revolution of 25 January, it has only grown stronger.  Sharif Abdel Kouddous reported on Twitter that on Feb. 8 the crowd in Tahrir Square was the biggest he had seen yet.

For US readers, a New Yorker magazine blog links to Wael Ghonim's dramatic appearance on Egypt's most popular interview show on the private channel Dream TV, an emotional eye-opener which the NY Times' Feb. 9 lead story indicates has brought thousands of new participants into the uprising.  These now, the Times story says, begin to include "brigades of university employees and telephone  company employees," "a column of legal scholars in formal black robes," and more members  of the Egyptian elite in Tahrir Square, including pop and sports stars and intellectuals.  The Times' front page photo shows a group of obviously hip and well-off young Egyptians deeply involved in collating interviews they've done with Tahrir protesters to post in various social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  

The Internet hasn't been crucial to the Egyptian uprising during its more than two weeks, but then again it has.  Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive in the Gulf, was active in establishing the "We Are All Khalid Said" Facebook site.  Said was a young Egyptian beaten to death by police in Alexandria on June 6, 2010, an event that was a tipping point for the Egyptian revolt as the self-immolation of unemployed university grad Mohamed Bouazizi was for the Tunisian one.  Surely their organizing of "We  Are All Khalid Said" and several other social networks helped get people into the Egyptian streets.  Then once public protest got going, each one told one, and millions came out and are still coming out.  The movement has a momentum of its own.   Ghonim has become a hero of the uprising -- especially its wired, young branch -- by saying tearfully and eloquently that he is not the real hero, that he only used his "fingers on a keyboard," while protesters put their bodies on the line.

In the TV interview Ghonim tells how he came from the Gulf telling his boss he needed time  off for "personal" reasons, but in fact in order to be in Cairo for the protests.  When he got there, he was "kidnapped" by police and held, continually blindfolded, for  twelve days -- the first, key days of the intifada.  He didn't know if the uprising had really gotten off the ground.  When he was released and learned that many had died, he was devastated, but he insisted it was not the fault of the organizers; it was the fault of " those who are in charge of the country and don’t want to leave their positions."

This TV moment is important because it helps counter the continuing Mubarak regime campaign to discredit the uprising, say its leaders are tools of foreign interests, or claim its demands have been met and people can go home.

The demands of the Egyptian people have not been met.  They insist that Hosni Mubarak leave and his whole government with him, including Omar Suleiman;  that the two main bodies of the government be dissolved; and there be a new constitution allowing multiparty representation.  Needless to say when Suleiman met with opposition representatives on Sunday he agreed to none of that.

Washington has gotten its wires crossed, sending as special Egypt envoy longtime Mubarak friend Frank Wisner.  Wisner insisted the dictator had to stay in office to insure a "smooth transition" --  just what the administration was not saying any more. All that is notable only for its irrelevance and unhelpfulness.  As commentators have been saying, America is once again  "on the wrong side of history."  The US backing of Omar Suleiman as a "transition" figure is utterly wrong.  The terror/torture chief, the extraordinary rendition point man, Mubarak's no. 1 crony, is no transition at all but a continuation.  But the uprising is undaunted and is planning to move to other fronts beyond the main visible one of Tahrir Square, now setting up a significant demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian Parliament, an action which one protester interviewed by the NY Times said needed to be united with the Tahrir demonstrations:  "Then we will expand further until Mr. Mubarak gets the point."  There is a new program for protesters to come out mainly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they can rest in between and be visibly strong when they appear.  Feb. 9's favorable lead story in the NY Times suggests the regime's repression of foreign journalists inspires them to see the revolt more positively.

From a video of Wael Ghonim being arrested
Wired Egyptian youth (NY Times Feb. 9, 2011)

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