Wael Ghonim: Egyptian Google Exec and Protestor Freed
Wael Ghonim was released by Egyptian authorities today. Mike Giglio talks to friends and family about their enormous sense of relief.
Google executive Wael Ghonim has confirmed that he was the man behind an anonymous Facebook page that served as a catalyst for Egypt’s uprising. Mike Giglio talks to his friends and family about his new freedom. Plus, full coverage of the protests in Egypt.
Friends and family of Google executive Wael Ghonim, the company’s head of marketing in the Middle East, finally have confirmation of his release, which was reported by news outlets today.
Photos: Egypt Protests
“Freedom is a bless that deserves fighting for it,” Ghonim tweeted at 8:00 p.m. Cairo time.
Ghonim, 30, who had been missing for 10 days, disappeared as pro-democracy protests swept through Cairo. He went missing shortly after sending out the following tweet: “Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.”
Ghonim’s release is an enormous relief to friends, family members, and Google officials who frantically tried to find him; searching through local hospitals and prison, fearing for his safety as Egypt went through one of the most tumultuous moments in the country’s recent history. “The past two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster,” says a friend in Washington, D.C., who has been exhaustively working with the State Department and White House to locate Ghonim and secure his release. “Once I confirmed that someone saw him, I exhaled, and felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Family members were reportedly bombarded with anonymous calls saying Ghonim is being “taught a lesson.” "His wife is really scared for his safety,” one of Ghonim’s friends said last week. “She’s really emotional about this. She’s really tired. She hasn’t slept for a long time. She’s praying for his safe return.”
The State Department and authorities in Cairo had earlier confirmed that Ghonim was released from Egyptian custody. The release had originally been scheduled for 4 p.m. Cairo time.
As they awaited confirmation, protesters in Tahrir Square this evening seemed optimistic. “It’s just a matter of time,” said Wael Khalil, an Egyptian activist and acquaintance of Ghonim’s.
Ghonim, who is Egyptian but lived in Dubai, where Google has one of its Middle East offices, had apparently come to Cairo for the protests. Esraa Abdel Fatah, a cofounder of the pro-democracy April 6 Youth Movement, which played a crucial role in organizing the protests, met Ghonim in Qatar on Jan. 20, during a conference on cyberactivism. She last saw Ghonim five days later in Tahrir Square, as the two enthusiastically watched the protests. “If you see him, you think he’s your average Joe, but he’s extremely smart,” said a friend who described Ghonim as passionate about technology and the future of his country.
“Once I confirmed that someone saw him, I exhaled, and felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
In Ghonim’s absence, the protesters in Tahrir Square made his release one of their central demands. Now, they’re still hoping that he can rejoin the protests.
Mike Giglio is a reporter at Newsweek.