At the India Today Conclave held last week, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who facilitated the revolution in Egypt through a Facebook page, likened the revolution to Wikipedia, saying that everyone contributed selflessly, everyone had a role: “You don’t even know their names, but everyone did their share, for a better Egypt. We were dreamers, and we managed to make our dream come true in the streets of Cairo.” Ghonim added that the Facebook page wasn’t started with the objective to start a revolution, but so that “that people should have their voice heard. We had 300,000 – 400,000 people on the page, and we said that we’re going to go to the streets, seeking our rights, and for the people in power in our country to respect our dreams.
The Revolution & Social Media
Ghonim credited Khalid Saeed, the man tortured to death by Police, and said that following his unjust killing, the page came alive. “We used marketing to build the brand, asking people to show their anger saying that we’re all Khalid Saeed, and share their photograph, that they’re Khalid Saeed (ED: people sharing photos holding a sign is a popular Internet meme format). Inspired by Gandhi, we asked people to do a silent protest, and show their anger for one hour. The first time we did it, thousands of people showed up, miles and miles of people facing the sea in Alexandria and other Governaries. The online world (became offline as people) started go share their dreams and frustrations, and (show) that they’re not alone, that we’re dealing with real people. The brand of the page began to grow, and basically, we were trying to educate people.”
Ghonim said that the Facebook page itself was not just participative, but also democratic: “We don’t want to take all the credit. People were collaborating, and our decisions on the page were democratic. We asked people to vote on the next course of action, and when the Tunisian revolution happened, it was not me who decided, but there was huge pressure with hundreds of comments“.
With over quarter of million people on the page, over 50,000 people confirmed that they would take part in the protests, in 3 days. Eventually, more than 100k people signed up, and more than that were on the streets. A lot of people making fun of us. (Quoting Gandhi, he said) First they ignore you, then they make fun of you (the silent stand), they will fight you (happened at tahrir), and in the end we will win. We won the new Egyptian character. These were people who don’t care for their food, but they want to feel free, and live with dignity. So never underestimate your self, no barriers. There’s nothing called impossible. Nothing called media. I don’t believe in mainstream media. the media is the people. Everyone can connect to everyone, and in the end the truth will prevail.
Egypt 2.0: Using Social Media For Governance
Responding to a question from Tim Berners Lee, about how they can use the Internet to make a more effective form of democracy, Ghonim said that today the Prime Minister of Egypt has a page on Facebook, the Army Supreme Council has a page on Facebook, along with many other ministries. “Most of us know that when the old Prime Minister left, appointed by Hosni Mubarak left, the message was put by Army on their Facebook page. They’ve understood the power of the online platforms. They communicate with us, and somehow listen to us. Earlier they used to do what they want, and not care for feedback.”
Ghonim said that using Google Moderator, the are collecting ideas for a new Egypt – Egypt 2.0. So far, they’ve collected 50,000 ideas, and are working on initiatives to bring the economy back. “It’s people to the people. People who have never seen a computer are driven by people who’ve viewed these arguments online. In Cairo, there is a suburb where no one had a computer, but people were still a part of the protest. It spread offline.”
Ghonim said that they’re using Facebook to collect ideas and increase political awareness; it’s being used as a platform for volunteers, to promote tourism in Egypt. “After Hosni Mubarak was forced to leave power, it was a colleague of mine who lost his eye during the protest, who came up with the idea of using the Internet to collect people who were injured, to submit forms with their cases, and we asked doctors to help them.”
During his talk, Ghonim said that but it’s crucial for the opinion leaders to get more and more people online, even those who cant read or write. “There are ways to empower them. You can see photos, and watch a video.”
“The Internet is a platform for empowering people,” Ghonim said. “In Egypt six million are online out of 85 million, but the six million empower many others. I was made fun of when I said that the Internet will shape Egypt. The decision to elect the next President will be highly impacted by his online digital campaign.”