'18-day revolution began not with terrorism and tanks, but with Twitter and texts and satellite TV broadcasts'
CBS 60 Minutes
13 Feb, 2011
(CBSNews) This Sunday night, for the first time in more than two weeks, traffic is flowing through Cairo's Tahrir Square. In Egypt, businesses are open, university classes are back in session and a new military government rules with popular support and a promise of coming democracy.
Egypt is an ancient civilization with a youthful population - nearly two-thirds of them are 30 years old or under. Many of them are educated but unemployed and angry.
Their 18-day revolution began not with terrorism and tanks, but with Twitter and texts and satellite TV broadcasts.
This week an aging autocrat who ruled as a modern pharaoh fell victim to those weapons of the young - out-organized and outmaneuvered by social media, by kids with keyboards.
In Cairo, CBS News correspondent Harry Smith had a chance to talk with the man who emerged as the symbol of the leaderless rebellion, Google executive Wael Ghonim.
Ghonim was jailed for his Internet organizing; when he gave a live interview on satellite TV following his release, he galvanized the movement. Though he was at the center of the "new age revolution," he has no ambition for leadership, nor any way of knowing what comes next.
Wael Ghonim: The regime was extremely stupid. They are the ones who basically ended themselves. They kept oppressing and oppressing and oppressing and oppressing. Right after I came out of jail, I wrote a status message that we are gonna (win), because we don't understand politics, because we don't understand their nasty games. We're gonna win because our tears comes from our hearts. We're gonna win because we have a dream. We're gonna win because we're convinced that if anyone stands up in front of our dream, we're ready to die defending it.
Harry Smith: Two and a half weeks ago, when this started, did you anticipate this outcome?
Ghonim: When I went on the streets on Tuesday, on the 25th, I was like, 'Whoa, it's gonna happen.' Because the only barrier to people uprising and revolution is the psychological barrier of fear. All these regimes rely on fear. They want everyone to be scared. If you manage to break the psychological barrier, you're gonna definitely be able to do the revolution.
That wall of fear fell in the last few weeks, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defied their government and demanded change. Helping to lead the charge was 30-year-old Ghonim, Google's regional marketing manager for the Middle East. In his spare time, he created a Facebook page, posting information about the brutality of Egyptian police.
He was especially angered by the killing of a 28-year-old Internet activist, who was beaten to death after trying to expose police corruption.
Smith: How important is his story in what happened here in the last three weeks?
Ghonim: By the way, his name is Khalid Sayid, name translated in English into 'eternal happiness.' His photo, after being killed by those police officers made all of us cry. Made all of us, you know, because he's coming from middle class. I personally connected to him. I thought, 'This could be my brother.' You know? And I know the police in Egypt. You know, they used to act like they controlled the world. You know, they'd beat you up. You are someone basically who have no rights. So when he died I personally got deeply hurt. I decided to start fighting this regime.
The Facebook page was called "We are all Khalid Sayid." Soon hundreds, then thousands of others began sharing photos and video of abuse and mistreatment.
Within months, the number of followers on Facebook grew to half a million, and when he and other organizers posted the dates and locations of protests, people started showing up and posting Internet videos. Many of the organizers never met in person. Their primary interaction was online.
Smith: If there's no social network, does this revolution happen?
Ghonim: If there was no social networks, it would have never been sparked. Because the whole thing before the revolution was the most critical thing. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without YouTube, this would have never happened
Smith: If you want to have a free country, if you want democracy, then the Internet is great, and all this information can be shared. But isn't just the opposite then true? If I want to continue to suppress people, the last thing I'm gonna give them is access to the Internet.
Ghonim: Block the whole Internet, you're gonna really frustrate people. One of the strategic mistakes of this regime was blocking Facebook. One of the reasons why they are no longer in power now is that they blocked Facebook. Why? Because they have told four million people that they are scared like hell from the revolution by blocking Facebook. They forced everyone who's just, you know, waiting to read the news on Facebook, they forced them to go to the street to be part of this. So really, like, if I want to thank one, thank anyone for all of this, I would thank our stupid regime.
Three days after the protests began in Tahrir Square, Ghonim disappeared. His friends and family feared he'd been kidnapped or even killed. Egyptian authorities had arrested him for 12 days. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and constantly interrogated.
Smith: Did they hit you?
Ghonim: Yeah, but it was not systematic. Like, it was individual based, and it was not from the officers. It was actually from the soldiers. And I forgive them, I have to say. I forgive them, because one thing is that they were convinced that I was harming the country. These are simple people, not educated. I cannot carry a conversation with them. So, you know, for him, I'm sort of like a traitor. I'm de-stabilizing the country. So when he hits me, he doesn't hit me because, you know, he's a bad guy. He's hitting me because he thinks he's a good guy. I'll tell you a funny story: At the end of the last day, you know, I removed my...blindfold. And I said, 'Hi,' and kissed every one of them. All of the soldiers. And, you know, it was good. I was sending them a message.
Smith: Why do you think they let you go?
Ghonim: Pressure. Ask Obama. Probably. There were a lot of factors to it. One is Google. Google did a lot of work to get me out. They did a lot, massive PR campaign.
After Ghonim was released, he appeared on a popular Egyptian television program, talking about those who had been killed in the protests. The next day, the crowds in Tahrir Square grew even larger. Their demands would not be denied. And Friday, 18 days after the protest started, Mubarak resigned.
Smith: President Obama came out several times during the revolution, had things to say. Did it help? Did it hurt?
Ghonim: You know, it was good that he supports the revolution. That's a good stand. But we don't really need him. And I don't think that....I wrote a tweet. I wrote, 'Dear Western governments. You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don't get involved now. We don't need you.'
Ghonim told us he has no interest in politics and he wants to go back to work at Google. After our interview, he talked about the future with family and friends. But he realizes his future has fundamentally changed.
Smith: Have you had death threats?
Ghonim: Yeah. I get those all the time. I'm getting a lot of hate messages, a lot of people are talking bad about me, and, you know, still accusing me of being a spy and a traitor. And all that funny stuff. But I think, in the next few days, when all the black files of the regime are gonna be out for everyone to read and see, AND we know about the money that was stolen from this country. Things are gonna get better.
Smith: Do you think Mubarak will be brought to trial?
Ghonim: At the moment, I don't care. Revenge is not the thing I want. For me, what I care about right now, I want all the money of the Egyptian people to come back. There are billions and billions of dollars that were stolen out of this country. You cannot imagine the amount of corruption that was here. You know, with all these people in power, with all this conflict of interest. And, you know, it's time for them to pay the price. And it's, as I said, revenge is not my goal, personally. You know, others would have that as their goal. And I don't blame them for that. But for me, what is more important, we want the money back. Because this money belongs to the Egyptians, and they deserve it. The people who were eating from the trash, that was their money.
Smith: People who watch this say, 'Okay, well, this miracle happened in Egypt. But it won't be like that a month or a year or five years from now. Life isn't like that.' Do you believe the ideals that were so well-displayed over the last two and a half weeks are the pavement or the foundation for the country?
Ghonim: Yeah, that's actually our responsibility. We're now meeting a lot. Because...this momentum, whatever that just happened right now, needs to be capitalized on now.
Smith: Did the Mubarak regime underestimate, or do you even think it understood, the power of the social network?
Ghonim: They don't understand the social networking part. But they underestimate the power of the people. And, you know, at the end of the day, I want to say my final word is, 'Thanks, thanks, thanks to the stupid regime. You have done us the best thing ever. You have woke up 80 million Egyptians.'
Smith: So if you're an autocrat, or if you're a dictator, and you watch what happened in Egypt over the last several weeks, what lesson do you think...?
Ghonim: He should freak out. He seriously should freak out. ~ courtesy: CBS News ~