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Faisal J. Abbas

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In London, Egypt's Wael Ghonim Criticises 'Western Double Standards'

Posted: 02/ 1/2012 7:00 pm

Are Arabs better or worse off following the 2011 revolutions? Did the Arab Spring make the world a safer place and should the UK and USA accept the new democratically-elected governments of the Middle East if the people vote-in religious parties which may oppose Western interests?

Clearly, answers to the above questions are all debatable, however, what may be ironic is that the only thing which seems certain to most people is the uncertainty surrounding the region's future.

But before we can be able to predict what happens next, we must carefully examine the past; particularly that the rapidly unfolding events of 2011 left us very little room to reflect and understand fully what had actually happened around us.

This is exactly why I was eager to read Revolution 2.0, a memoir which documents the build-up, social network preparations and insight to the recent Egyptian Revolution which successfully brought down the Mubarak Regime.

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(Wael Ghonim - Photo credit: Sam Christensen)

The book's author is a soft-spoken and extremely casual Egyptian by the name of Wael Ghonim. Only a year ago, this 31-year-old internet entrepreneur wasn't particularly known beyond his professional capacity as a regional marketing executive for Google based in Dubai.

Today however, Ghonim is undoubtedly a globally recognised figure who has been listed as one of the 2011 TIME magazine's100 most influential people in the world. Perhaps against his will, he has become the face of the Egyptian revolution, or indeed, its "spokesperson" as described by Egyptian presidential hopeful and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei.

Ghonim is currently in London to promote his new book and to give talks at some of the country's most prestigious institutions.

The Role of Social Media

Prior to conducting the interview, I posted a question on Twitter asking 'tweeps' what would they ask Ghonim if they had the opportunity. Several replies came back wondering if he thinks the revolution would have taken place if it wasn't for social media.

The question was actually spot-on, mainly because once you read Revolution 2.0, you could almost immediately draw a parallel between the events which took place on the ground in Cairo's Tahrir Square and the increasing popularity of the "Kolina Khaled Said" (We are all Khaled Said) Facebook page.

Today, the page has a staggering (by Middle Eastern standards) 1.8 million followers. It was started by Ghonim and named after the slain Egyptian blogger who was killed by members of the Egyptian Police in 2010. As you continue to read Ghonim's book, it becomes quite clear that Mubarak's tight grip over Egypt was loosening up with every new member, comment or user-generated content uploaded to this Facebook page.

On the other hand, the timing of the question couldn't have come been more suitable following the very recent row over Twitter's newly announced country-by-country censorship policy.

Ghonim says that the bottom-line is that "governments shouldn't censor any problems or ignore them, they should have to deal with them", but specifies that due to his preoccupation with the ongoing developments in Egypt, he didn't have the time to fully go through the details of Twitter's changing policies.

As to whether or not 25 January was indeed a social media revolution, Ghonim points out that while it is important not to overstate the role of internet, it is also important not to undermine itl. So, would the Egyptian revolution have happened without the internet? Ghonim says "Probably yes, but it might have taken a different path"

He says that people should remember that 2010 witnessed the largest number of strikes (in Egypt) due to economic reasons, while also suggesting that had this (the revolution) had happened 20 years ago then all protesters would have been locked up in jail.

"The West has double standards"

One of the things that I was keen to know was Ghonim's views on Western politics, particularly given the contradicting positions regarding the Arab Spring; on one hand we had clear support for the protesters in Egypt, pressure on the Mubarak regime to restore internet and mobile connections, a military intervention against the Gaddafi Regime in Libya, but then again hardly any notable action when it came to Bahrain and Syria.

"The West has double standards in dealing with the Arab World, they tell us about values, they preach about them, and then they make decisions based on their interests even if they contradict the values", says Ghonim.

"I totally believe that revolutions are internal issues. I come from the school that says we are going to do it ourselves... All we want is for these people (Western countries) are to remain neutral and not support one side over the other."

When it came to the ongoing debate in the UK and other Western countries regarding whether or not the Egyptian Revolution has been 'hijacked' by the Muslim Brotherhood, Ghonim had some pivotal things to say.

"I think that the people who are not happy and think that the revolution has been hijacked are the same people who were supporting Hosni Mubarak (for) over 30 years", he argues.

The former Google executive explains that "Our job wasn't to force anyone into power... our job is to tell the Egyptian people (that) from now on, we are empowered to make our decision" and notes that for the first time in 60 years, Egypt finally has a democratically-elected parliament.

Ghonim confirms that he actually did vote, though he prefers not to mention who has he voted for. He also says he always declined to answer when people sought his advice on who should they give their support to during the elections.

"Many people voted for Muslim Brothers, as well as Salafis, they have a very good reputation because people are sick of corruption and dishonesty. However, in five years' time if any of these members failed to solve the issues in the country, they won't be voted in again", he explains.

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(Revolution 2.0 book cover)


"Our Egypt"

Wael almost shies away from taking any form of credit when it comes to all the effort he has put in planning and gathering support for the 25 Jan revolution, he says it wouldn't be fair to all the other Egyptians who also arranged, took part or worked on the ground. In fact, he also avoids calling himself an "activist", preferring to label himself as a "normal person".

He still insists that he won't run as a political candidate, on the premise that he didn't part take in the revolution for any personal gains. However, the matter of fact is that Ghonim did partly instigate the change in Egypt and for that many people do/are going to expect him to be responsible for the outcome of his actions.

On this point, Ghonim says he is getting politically involved through a newly established lobby called "Masrina" (Our Egypt). The group's declared mission statement is to "create a body for youth where their combined will could meet to move Egypt which we want from dream to reality".

He is also working on launching an NGO project called Nabadat (beats) which aims to combat poverty through education and technology among Egyptians.

As far as the book goes, he says he wrote Revolution 2.0 because he wanted to share the experience and hope to inspire others to document what they went through as well; a matter which he believes will definitely be of help to researchers in the future.

Ghonim also hopes that the book, which is published in English, can help eliminate the "negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims", who as a brand of people suffered from what he describes as "media generalisation" following 9/11.

"I want to send a message that we are freedom seekers and that we love democracy and want a better life", he concludes.

* Revolution 2.0 has just been released in the UK, it is available from 4th Estate/HarperCollins and through Amazon. According to Ghonim, all proceeds will go to support the "Nabadat" charity, to the victims and families of those who lost lives during the Egyptian Revolution and to fund development research.

 

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