Revolution 2.0 / Wael Ghonim

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Revolution 2.0. The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir, 
Wael Ghonim, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA 2012, 308 pp.

“Today they killed Khaled. If I don’t act for his sake, tomorrow they will kill me.” wrote Wael Ghonim, on June 8, 2010 on a facebook page he had just created.

During this night, Ghonim, a 29 years old Google marketing executive, decided to use internet to spread information and mobilize people after seeing a startling picture of a bloodied and disfigured face, its jaw broken, a young life taken away. “It took a few moments for Ghonim to settle on a name for the page, one that would fit the character of an increasingly personalized and politically galvanizing Internet. He finally decided on “Kullena Khaled Said”“We Are All Khaled Said.”

Two minutes after he started his Facebook page, 300 people had joined it. Three months later, that number had grown to more than 250,000.

If you have a look at it today, you can still read under project description: “Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, was tortured to death at the hands of two police officers. Several eye witnesses described how Khalid was taken by the two policemen into the entrance of a residential building where he was brutally punched and kicked. The two policemen banged his head against the wall, the staircase and the entrance steps. Despite his calls for mercy and asking them why they are doing this to him, they continued their torture until he died according to many eye witnesses. Khaled has become the symbol for many Egyptians who dream to see their country free of brutality, torture and ill treatment. Many young Egyptians are now fed up with the inhuman treatment they face on a daily basis in streets, police stations and everywhere. Egyptians want to see an end to all violence committed by any Egyptian Policeman. Egyptians are aspiring to the day when Egypt has its freedom and dignity back, the day when the current 30 years long emergency martial law ends and when Egyptians can freely elect their true representatives.”

Ghonim’s Facebook page anonymously called for accountability for Khaled’s death and an end to corruption within the Egyptian government. The page engaged users, solicited ideas from Egyptians, and also proposed a Jan. 25 mass protest date. “We Are All Khaled Said” helped ignite an uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of the ruling National Democratic Party.  Nevertheless, Ghonim who simply defines himself as a web administrator and not as an activist, is careful to emphasize that chatter on Facebook or on Twitter  is only a tool and cannot create social change.  “History is made on the streets, not on the Internet”.

Ghonim thought that his anonymity was his power and his safety. But in January 2011, right before the protests starte-d, security officials in Egypt learned Ghonim’s identity and arrested him. For 11 days, Ghonim was held blindfolded in a cell and repeatedly interrogated. Egyptian security officials told him that they suspected he was working with foreign officials and called him a traitor. “It was a very hard moment for me,” he says. “I would accept being seen as someone who is the opposition, who is creating problems for them – but the fact that they called me a traitor was very hard on me. I told them, ‘You can torture me as much as you want, but you’re not going to get this out of me because this is not true. I would prefer to die than to admit something I’ve never done, that I think is completely wrong.” Meanwhile, news began to circulate on the Internet about his disappearance.

Revolution 2.0 excels in chronicling the roiling tension in the months before the uprising, the careful organization required and the momentum it unleashed. Ghonim makes up for the lack of eyewitness detail by taking a broad overview and presenting a manifesto on the capacity of social media to transform a society. The author traces the planning that took place in the days before Jan. 25, 2011, when thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in preparation for the uprising. He also gives an insider’s account of what he experienced during the protests –when Egyptian security authorities locked him in a basement jail cell– and then what it was like after the departure of President Hosni Mubarak.

“Ghonim’s memoir is a welcome and clear-eyed addition to a growing list of volumes that have aimed (but often failed) to meaningfully analyze social media’s impact [wrote Jose Antonio Vargas in the New York Times] It’s a book about social media for people who don’t think they care about social media. It will also serve as a touchstone for future testimonials about a strengthening borderless digital movement that is set to continually disrupt powerful institutions, be they corporate enterprises or political regimes. His individual story resonates on two levels: it epitomizes the coming-of-age of a young Middle Eastern generation that has grown up in the digital era, as well as the transformation of an apolitical man from comfortable executive to prominent activist.(…) What Ghonim’s book makes clear, however, is that revolution begins with the self: with what one is willing to stand for online and offline, and what one citizen is willing to risk in the service of his country.”

Much more than a simple testimony, this book is both an intimate and historical record. It is moving and poignant at the same time. Providing an insider’s account, Revolution 2.0 is a must read for anybody interested in these events and looking for something different.

Aude Jehan