Google exec starts Egypt revolt on Facebook

Egyptian Wael Ghonim, a Google Inc. marketing manager, who has become a hero of the demonstrators since he went missing on Jan. 27, two days after the protests began, hugs the mother of Khaled Said, a young 28-year-old businessman who died in June, 2010, at the hands of undercover police, setting off months of protests against the hated police, at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb.8, 2011. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali)
March 16, 2011 3:31:21 PM PDT
One of the organizers of the uprising in Egypt says a Google executive gets credit for spreading it on Facebook.

Google has maintained all along that Wael Ghonim went to Egypt on his own and it wasn't to start a revolution. The connection is much closer to home, the middle of Silicon Valley.

As tens of thousands of Egyptians celebrated in Tahrir Square on Friday evening, one of the central figures in the revolution, told CNN Egypt is on the move.

"Today, I am telling you Egypt is going to be a democratic state and you will be impressed how fast we will be developing," Wael Ghonim said.

The Dubai-based Google executive's Internet postings rallied Mubarak opponents to Tahrir Square in late January. Soon after, Ghonim went to Egypt and was promptly arrested. The man who got him to Egypt is Bay Area Internet entrepreneur Ossama Hassanein.

"I called Wael because I believe he's an extraordinary man. He was with us at the boot camps at AUC American University in Cairo," he said.

Hassanein says Ghonim was part of setting up a partnership between Silicon Valley and Egypt's Smart Village -- an Internet start-up incubator that brings together entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and mentors.

"And I said the prime minister will open plug and play Egypt on the 23rd, and I wouldn't do it without you, and he said, 'I'm coming,'" he said.

Within 48 hours of his arrival, Ghonim was under arrest.

"And then within two weeks he was very fortunately released," Hassanein said.

Ghonim's presence in Tahrir Square this past week ignited the pro-democracy forces. Friday as millions of Egyptians joined Ghonim in celebration, his cousin called him from San Francisco. Ayman Aniss is understandably proud of his cousin, but the 30-year-old gave his family a scare when he went to Egypt and was jailed.

"The family was, you know, afraid that he was going to be killed like one, of course. His mom was calling me and worried about him and crying and all of this," he said.

But now, he's free and his Internet postings his trip to Egypt and his subsequent arrest and being hailed as an inspiration for the uprising.

"You know everybody said, what? You know what? We are here for it if this young man, you know, like is comfortable with his life and so on, is saying willing to die for his values, you know for freedom of speech and things like that, then why should we do this," said.

The Egyptian military is in charge now and the supreme council is promising a transition to a representative government. Ghonim says he trusts the military but more than that he trust 80 million Egyptians, now that they know what is possible, he says there will be no going back.

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