The Newest Face of the Egyptian Revolution

by Amir Fouad

On February 7th, Google’s Middle East marketing director Wael Ghonim reemerged in Cairo after a twelve day disappearance. His moving televised interview a day later detailing his detention by the Egyptian authorities sent shock waves of emotion not only through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but through the now global network of informed citizens who sympathize with the pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt. And rightfully so. Mr Ghonim’s ordeal is the embodiment of everything the Egyptian people despise about their government. The regime’s reform-promising political declarations made during his detention underscore a double standard disappointingly echoed by the United States in the form of diplomatic equivocation.

Consider that Mr. Ghonim’s kidnapping occurred on January 27th, two days after the initial “Day of Anger”, but before President Hosni Mubarak had even bothered to address his discontented nation publicly. Mr Ghonim’s detention was a simple matter of business-as-usual for the Mubarak regime, a convenient manifestation of the decades old emergency law that also justified the water cannons, tear gas and bullets in the days that followed. This has been the political reality in Egypt for decades: step out of line and be crushed, as the galvanizing death of Khaled Saeed in June 2010 tragically highlighted.

Until these demonstrations began, this reality had been endured by all Egyptians. Young or old, muslim or christian, the aversion to state authority and the police for fear of what would happen if the wrong person were upset was something even I implicitly understood in my lifelong travels to the country. Political apathy was the norm. The State was simply too strong, the prospect of how resistance would be dealt with simply too dreadful to contemplate. How utterly inspiring it has been to see this fear wiped away and to see a new reality being written where no amount of fear-mongering or disingenuous political maneuvering or state-induced violence trumps the will of peaceful, freedom-seeking people.

While Wael Ghonim sat blindfolded in a room – his friends, family and colleagues unaware of his location – the periodic, calculated proclamations of reform from the very people detaining him began. President Mubarak spoke of elections and security and the “legitimate rights of the people”. He spoke of new ministers and of constitutional amendments and of “national dialogue”. But he did not speak of Wael Ghonim or any of the other detainees under his regime’s custody – past or present – who were robbed of the human rights and rule of law enjoyed by so many others in the world and sought so fervently now by his people. After 30 years of autocratic, self-serving despotism, these proclamations – which are now coming less from an embattled Mubarak and more from his alleged torturer Vice President Omar Suleiman – have not a modicum of credibility.

The regime’s weakened footing due to international pressure and global media attention spared Mr Ghonim a fate of beatings and torture. Instead, he had been kidnapped for the prominent role he played in the online mobilization of the protests and the regime’s primary hope in questioning him was to ascertain who was leading the demonstrations. Surely if they could just identify the man behind the madness they could crush him too. Such a forceful example could be made of him to shock the masses back into their disciplined subservience. But no such leader existed and Mr Ghonim’s release by a faltering, uncertain regime now highlights even more the absurdity in the notion that this government guilty of corruption, kidnapping and brutality should be the one entrusted with nurturing the precious freedom that lies at Egypt’s fingertips.

The world is witnessing a truly grassroots push for democratic and human rights that by all accounts personifies the values and ideologies propagandized by the United States. But as the New York Times recently reported, “the United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals”, backing their longtime inside man, Omar Suleiman, who neither supports the abdication of President Mubarak nor the repeal of the emergency law nor the idea of democracy in Egypt. It is a predictable, depressing trend on the part of the US government that continues to neglect the grievances and hardships of ordinary people in favor of established realpolitik. It is a double standard not lost on Wael Ghonim or the Egyptian people who, having yet to see the fruition of their one simple demand after weeks of courageous revolution, know a thing or two about double standards and hypocrisy.

Citations and further reading

Al Jazeera Staff. “Live Blog Feb 8 – Egypt Protests.” Al Jazeera Blogs. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2011/02/07/live-blog-feb-8-egypt-protests>.

“Full Text of Mubarak’s Speech – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.” AJE – Al Jazeera English. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/20112221313603381.html>.

Hajjar, Lisa. “Suleiman: The CIA’s Man in Cairo – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.” AJE – Al Jazeera English. 07 Feb. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/201127114827382865.html>.

Brooks, David. “The Quest for Dignity.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/opinion/01brooks.html?ref=davidbrooks>.

Cooper, Helene, and David E. Sanger. “In Egypt, U.S. Weighs Push for Change With Stability.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 07 Feb. 2011. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/world/middleeast/08diplomacy.html?ref=helenecooper>.

Al Qassemi, Sultan. “Egypt and Zolm: The Road From Revolt to Change | Mideastposts.com | Mideastposts.com.” Mideastposts.com | The Authoritative Voice of Middle East Bloggers. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. <http://mideastposts.com/2011/02/08/egypt-and-zolm-the-road-from-revolt-to-change/>.

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