Wael Ghonim in conversation with Ben Hammersley: Revolution 2.0

By Emily Wight

A key element to the Arab Spring was the role of social media in giving momentum to the revolution. In countries such as Egypt, Facebook and Twitter have been used as a democratizing force, a platform for activists to share ideas.

At last night’s #FCBBCA event Wired UK’s editor at large Ben Hammersley spoke to Wael Ghonim about his creation of one of the most influential of these platforms. We Are All Khaled Said – a Facebook page commemorating the 28-year-old man who died by the hands of Egyptian police in June 2010 – attracted 36,000 people in just 24 hours.

Ghonim spoke of the affinity he felt with Khaled Said:

"I could just have been him under the same circumstances – someone could kill me and no-one pays the price, and at the same time I think that we are all Khaled Said because we are going to get his rights.”

Ghonim believes that this sentiment was spread among the Egyptian people, saying, “We all knew that Khaled Said was not the first guy who died by security forces.” When 300 people had signed up to the page within 3 minutes, he said it gave him hope that he was not alone.

But he is nothing if not modest, and he seemed reluctant to take any credit for his role in sparking the uprisings. Yes, the power of the internet allowed people to connect with each other, but real change had to be physical. He said, “The revolution had to happen on the street.”

He was quick to praise the revolution in Tunisia:

“Tunisia should get all the credit because the Egyptians were angry, mad, frustrated; we wanted to see change – but everyone was saying there is no hope and no-one had envisioned how this would happen.”

The Egyptian authorities must have seen Ghonim as somewhat of a threat, however, because on 27 January they arrested him. He was detained for 11 days, and although the fear was unimaginable, he was only grateful that he wasn’t subjected to physical torture, like so many of his fellow activists. While in jail he spoke to his guards, who he refuses to see as the enemy.

Ghonim spoke of the importance of the choice of the Egyptian people.

"If the people choose to support the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, let them; they have voted for him; they have engaged themselves in a healthy democratic process."

He dismisses the view that Egyptians – and, indeed, other activists in the Arab World – were props of western governments seeking to overthrow dictators:

“Any of these conspiracies is a direct insult to the sacrifices of the Egyptian people and to the amazing things that they have done: they were determined, they wanted something to happen and it happened.”

With Tahrir Square still alive with protest one year later, when asked what his future plans are, Ghonim told Hammersley, “I’m a spontaneous guy.”