“Welcome back Egypt!” came the Twitter message from Wael Ghonim, sent the moment that it was clear that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had finally relinquished power.
Crediting social media with providing the tools of a revolution, the Egyptian Google executive-turned-activist says that a critical turning point in struggle to remove Mubarak came months ago when Facebook began to emerge as a vehicle for connecting an oppressed people.
Ghonim, whose Facebook page was seen by many as a starting point for the popular revolt against Mubarak, whose Twitter messages encouraged that revolt and who was ultimately detained by a desperate regime seeking to halt the march of progress, was quick to credit the crowds. “The real hero is the young Egyptians in Tahrir square and the rest of Egypt,” he Tweeted, adding: “They lied at us. Told us Egypt died 30 years ago, but millions of Egyptians decided to search and they found their country in 18 days.”
Ghonim is no fool. He recognizes that the roots of the revolution go back to before anyone knew what it meant to be “digital,” and that it was powered not by virtual activism but a physical presence in the streets.
But in a brief interview moments after the news that Mubarak was ceding power to the Egyptian military—which has pledged to transition the country toward democracy—he celebrated the new media tools the people used.
“This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started…in June, 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content,” explained Ghonim, just minutes after Mubarak surrendered the presidency and gave up the dictatorial control he had held for three decades.
“I always said: If you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet. If you want to have a free society, just give them the Internet. The reason why is that the Internet helps you fight the media war,” he said.
From the 1970s into the first years of the twenty-first century, said the media activist who became a face of the youth movement that filled the streets of Cairo and other cities to protest Mubaral’s rule in recent weeks, the Egyptian regime–dominated media. But, he said, “when the Internet came, they really couldn’t.”
Ghonim is not done with Mubarak. Within minutes of Mubarak’s departure, he was taking up the call for Swiss banks to help the Egyptians find the money the dictator and his family stole from Egypt. “The money Mubarak and his family stole out of the Egyptian people should go to families of martyrs and to reconstruct Egypt,” he declared in a message to his more than 60,000 Twitter followers.
And where will the next “media war” be fought?
Ghonim says: “Watch Facebook.”