Wael Ghonim: We need to unify our demands

Less than 24 hours after his release, tens of thousands listened attentively to Google executive Wael Ghonim’s speech in Tahrir Square, while more than 170,000 joined the Facebook page nominating him as “The speaker for the Egyptian revolution.”

Ghonim’s appearance gave the Egyptian uprising a noticeable boost as the number of protesters in Tahrir Square on Tuesday surpassed 1 million, many of whom credited Ghonim for inspiring them to join the protests.

Ghonim’s tearful television interview following his release on Monday after he saw pictures of people who died during the protests struck a chord with Egyptians who started to look up to him as a potential leader.

“Wael Ghonim moved the feelings of every Egyptian, people of all ages cried as they watched him,” said Shorouk Sobhy, who took part in the protests for the first time on Tuesday after watching Ghonim’s interview.

During the same interview, Ghonim, who works in the Emirates as the regional marketing manager for Google, publicly acknowledged for the first time that he is the administrator of the ”We’re all Khaled Said” Facebook page that first called for the 25 January protests. Ghonim had been running the page anonymously until then.

The activist was arrested on Thursday, 27 January, leading to a search to locate him and nationwide calls for his release.

In his Tahrir Square speech Tuesday, the day after he was released, Ghonim asserted that protesters would not give up until the President Hosni Mubarak leaves. “The president’s resignation has become everybody’s demand now,” he said.

Ghonim offered his condolences to the families of the uprising’s victims while maintaining that the protesters are not the ones that caused their deaths and that their lives were lost because of “the people who robbed the country and refused to let go of their power even at the expense of innocent lives.”

Rejecting his portrayal as a hero, Ghonim told the protesters, “The hero is the one who sacrificed his life for his country, every one of you standing here today is a hero, you are the heroes.”

He urged protesters to continue their fight against the regime in honor of the fallen, saying “Anyone who lets their blood be lost in vain is a traitor.”

Ghonim told the protesters that his meeting with the newly appointed minister of interior, who he says talked to him as an equal, proved to him that the youth now have the upper hand in Egypt.

“You have a voice in this country and this is the time when we all have to take our rights, even if we will take them for our children and die as martyrs,” said Ghonim.

Ghonim addressed the politicization of the uprising by affirming that this is not the time for evening scores or forcing ideologies and that it is the time to put “Egypt above all.”

Ghonim gave the following interview to Al-Masry Al-Youm from his home in the Cairo district of Mohandessin.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: How do you see the situation now?

Wael Ghonim: I am not fully aware of the developments, and I do not have a comprehensive vision. All I know is that there are different points of view and several scenarios proposed. Also, several people are talking in the name of the protesters in Tahrir, but there is no clear vision. There are attempts to develop a unified demand to call for the departure of the president, but I’m waiting to listen to the opinions of several people in Tahrir to shape a view of the future.

Since my release, I have been trying to gather information from the media and the internet and I am also listening to my friends, but I still do not have a comprehensive vision of what could happen in the future or what should happen. I will not be able to shape that vision until I sit with all the youth in Tahrir.

I do not see it as the appropriate time for a showdown between the people on the one hand and the regime or other groups on the other, even though I myself need to let off a lot of steam. We have to place a higher value on the interests of Egypt, but this does not mean that we will give up on our rights, because I insist we do, but the situation as it is now cannot allow this. This is not the time to ask for a slice of the cake.

It is illogical to see those parties–which cannot gather a number of people to even fill a basketball court–trying to steal the youth’s thunder and sit to negotiate in their name. We have to serve the interests of the country first and foremost.

Al-Masry: Some people are casting doubts about the patriotism of the protesters currently in Tahrir. How would you comment on this?

Ghonim: Indeed there are those who are casting such doubts, but there are also those who say the contrary. Of course I personally believe they are patriotic people. What is happening now is an attempt to tarnish their image.

On 25 January they started circulating rumors about us just like in previous protests, this is very usual. They said the Muslim Brotherhood are leading the protests, but we all know that this protest was organized by the youth on Facebook and that those who participated have different affiliations. The Brotherhood represents no more than 15 percent.

Al-Masry: Were you completely isolated from the events and did not know what was happening during your detainment?

Ghonim:I did not know if the people had continued what we started or not. During my arrest, all news was blocked from me.

Al-Masry: What were the 12 days of your arrest like?

Ghonim: There was a bed that I sat on and my eyes were blindfolded all throughout–I could see nothing. I sat for four or five interrogation sessions, the duration of each of which ranged between one and two hours.

Al-Masry: Were you in any way physically assaulted?

Ghonim: Not at all. And I still do not know where I was incarcerated. I was at some security authority building, it may have been State Security or intelligence. But the officers who dealt with me were very well-mannered and knowledgeable.

Al-Masry: Did they press any charges against you?

Ghonim: At the beginning they were under the impression that the protests were pre-planned and not the result of a spontaneous idea on the internet. They believed that the protests were premeditated and that external parties participated in them, either by making, supporting or implementing them.

But I disproved all this with evidence. They were suspicious because I made several international calls using my phone, but I told them that these were business calls, which I made due to the nature of work I do, and they were persuaded because I provided proof.

Until now I do not know who decided I should be released, some are saying it was Hossam Badrawi, the secretary general of the National Democratic Party, while others are saying it was Omar Suleiman, the vice president.

Al-Masry: And some are claiming it was US President Barak Obama.

Ghonim: I do not think that Obama has anything to do with my release.

Al-Masry: But the US State Department has intervened.

Ghonim: Perhaps because I work for Google, and because the way I disappeared did not look good. Regardless of the reason, I would like to thank everyone who played a role in my release.

Al-Masry: How were you taken?

Ghonim: It was very late and I was coming out of a restaurant when all of a sudden four people started tying me up and shouting at me to keep my head down. They then forced me into a car and drove off to a destination that I do not know. I was not arrested in the protest.

Al-Masry: Do you believe someone is leading the protests now?

Ghonim: There is absolutely no one leading the protests now, and this is what I said to the interior minister and everyone else I have met. And to those who asked me to speak in their name I say this is not logical, for I may say something that the people do not like and I will be criticized.

Also, this is not a time to look for personal gains. Several people died and several others were arrested, so nobody should come forward and start calling these people traitors for his or her own personal gain. Nobody should attempt to attribute the success to themselves, either.

Al-Masry: There are several groups in Tahrir, each of which has its own demands, how can we resolve this disagreement?

Ghonim: I will meet with representatives of all groups in Tahrir to decide on our demands. Unifying our demands is the most important step at the moment.

Al-Masry: Are the concessions announced by the government sufficient?

Ghonim: I, Wael the citizen, was not in the protests, and none of my family members died or were harassed by thugs in Tahrir. Besides, I cannot state my opinion before listening to the people.

Al-Masry: What were the demands of the protesters on the first day, and what are they now?

Ghonim: On the first day we wanted a minimum wage, an unemployment allowance, constitutional amendments that prevent reelection of the president and a transfer of power to the president’s son, the abolition of the state of emergency and the dismissal of the interior minister. We hoped the president would appear the same day to say ‘Your number is big and your demands are legitimate and I approve of them.’ If he had done so, many things would have changed.

Al-Masry: Why then is Mubarak’s resignation being added to the demands?

Ghonim: When the people protested they found that the ceiling of demands could be raised to demand the departure of Mubarak. But now there is a need to unify demands, especially since the demands of Tahrir protesters do not seem to have been satisfied. They have the right to stay on the streets and announce them. What I would like to affirm now is that Egypt is in danger and we need to unify our demands.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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