Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim visits Silicon Valley

April 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
He went from corporate manager to activist and now the man credited with sparking the Egyptian revolution is in the Bay Area. After becoming the face of the democracy movement, Wael Ghonim sets his sights on a new mission.

"I'm just an Egyptian who thought of doing something in a different way," said Ghonim.

Ghonim is many things: a Google exec, an activist, and he's even at the top of Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He earned that honor because of the political revolution in Egypt that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.

"By Jan. 25th there were 850,000 people on Facebook who followed Wael," said venture capitalist Ossama Hassanein.

The 30-year-old quickly became the symbolic leader of change by organizing the first massive protest in Tahrir Square through a Facebook page. He came to Plug and Play, which is a start up incubator, to talk about it.

"Social media was actually the tool that [was] educating people on what is going on and how bad the situation is," said Ghonim. "We never envisioned that this [would] happen."

But it did and now it's time to look toward Egypt's future.

Ghonim is in Silicon Valley for several days with the specific focus of rebuilding Egypt by boosting tourism, creating mentorship programs, and getting local venture capitalists to invest there.

"The narrative about what Egypt will be and what it is needs, needs to change from chaos and into empathy," said Hassanein.

And those at the event Thursday night came to listen with empathetic ears.

Entrepreneur Chris De Backer said he gets "respect. He deserves it."

"It was inspirational and he's so humble and still a techie," said Shiva Ramesh from Cupertino.

Ghonim has high hopes for this visit. He is meeting with managers at Facebook and Twitter to discuss ways to build more Arabic-friendly tools.

Ghonim will be speaking at Stanford on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.

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