It’s been quite a year for Wael Ghonim, the Google marketing executive who became an icon for the Egyptian revolution: he was kidnapped by security forces supporting the old regime, named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 "Most Influential People" and now is leaving Google to help Egypt in its time of transition, reports WIRED.
“Decided to take a long term sabbatical from @Google & start a technology focused NGO to help fight poverty & foster education in #Egypt,” Ghonim Tweeted on April 23.
The 30-year-old activist made headlines for launching a Facebook page that helped organize the protests that led to the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. After being kidnapped by pro-Mubarak security forces and held for over a week, Ghonim continued to rally protesters upon his release; subsequent interviews he gave are credited with giving the protest renewed vigor.
But Ghonim says the most difficult work -- building a new Egyptian society -- is just beginning. In a talk at Stanford, Ghonim said that the goal of his NGO would be to “add a difference to people’s lives using technology.”
Technology is already enabling a more effective form of democracy in Egypt, says Ghonim; according to Medianama, he says the new regime recognizes the importance of using online platforms to communicate with the people. At the India Today Conclave, Ghonim said that the Prime Minister of Egypt and the Army Supreme Council both have Facebook pages, along with many other ministries.
“Most of us know that when the old Prime Minister, appointed by Hosni Mubarak left, the message was put by [the] Army on their Facebook page. They’ve understood the power of the online platforms. They communicate with us, and somehow listen to us. Earlier they used to do what they want, and not care for feedback.”
Using Google Moderator, Ghonim has started collecting ideas on how to build a new Egypt -- so far, they’ve collected 50,000 ideas. And Facebook is being used as a platform for promoting tourism in Egypt. Ghonim says that getting people online is the key to raising awareness, even for those who are illiterate, because even if they can't read, they can benefit from photos and videos.
“The Internet is a platform for empowering people,” Ghonim said at the Conclave.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Ghonim urged countries and corporations to invest in Egypt, and emphasized the need for increased tourism. He said that failure to turn Egypt around would send the wrong message to world dictators.
He added, “What we’re looking for is not, you know, aid, per se, we're looking for investments and we’re looking for opportunities for the Egyptian people to make money,” said Ghonim.
Reports ABC 7, Ghonim also visited Silicon Valley and met with managers at Facebook and Twitter to discuss ways to build more Arabic-friendly tools.
“Social media was actually the tool that [was] educating people on what is going on and how bad the situation is,” said Ghonim, referring to the protests, in a talk at Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley tech start-up community. “We never envisioned that this [would] happen.”
As of April 25, Ghonim had not Tweeted any more details about the NGO.
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