Egypt Forum V: The Return of the Google Executive

The situation in Cairo is changing daily. When Max posted it seemed as though Tahrir Square was emptying out and Mubarak’s wait-it-out strategy was sapping the will of the protesters. What the world thought was the beginning of a revolution was looking more like a rearrangement of the regime that would revolutionize little for the Egyptian people who craved a transparent, democratic government. However, today, Al Jazeera reported that 20,000 factory workers have stayed away from work in a nation-wide strike planned by Egyptian labor unions. Though it is unclear whether these strikers are united under one democratic cause, there is no doubt that they are adding momentum to the pro-democracy demonstrations that reached a disappointing anti-climax in the past few days. Some strikers demanded better pay, and increased protection from the state; however, others demanded that the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, step down immediately.

Though Mubarak has publically declared that he will not run for re-election, he also refuses to step down until the end of his term in September. In the mean time, he met with officials on Tuesday and appointed Omar Suleiman, the current Vice President, his immediate successor. As expected this concession on the part of a desperate President was not in the least bit satisfactory for the Egyptian people. According to old WikiLeak documents, the United States had been banking on Suleiman’s succession for years putting the US is in a delicate position with few positive options. If Obama publically gives Suleiman the support he needs, the Vice-President will likely lose all support from the protesters because of the general anti-American sentiment that runs deep in the Middle East these days. Therefore, the US is staying silent for the time being. In the mean time, the Egyptian people are turning toward Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for leadership. ElBaradei has said he is willing to lead a transitional government after Mubarak steps down; however, he has urged the Egyptian public to remain patient- constructive change takes time.

It remains unknown why these labor unions chose today to go on strike, but some speculate that the timing is connected with the recent release of Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, Wael Ghonim. Ghonim was seized by three plain-clothes policemen while protesting Mubarak’s thirty-year reign in Tahrir Square late last month. Many believe that this techie was behind the Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Said”, which is credited with sparking the pro-democracy protests in the already unstable environment in Egypt following the revolutionary turmoil in Tunisia.

Shortly after his release, Ghonim gave an interview to the privately owned Egyptian television network, Dream TV. In the interview he insists that he is not a hero; however, it is clear that the return of Ghonim reinvigorated what seemed like a shrinking Egyptian anti-government movement. Twitter has been exploding with Tweets about Ghonim’s patriotism and leadership since this interview. People are lending Egyptians their support and wishing them luck on Facebook. The world is witnessing the ever-changing situation in Egypt and many expats are returning to their homeland in order to help force change. Whether or not the media- or more specifically Ghonim- should receive as much credit as it has for its role in the protests of the last month, it is clear that it continues to play a defining role in what remains, at least for now, a revolution that holds step-change potential for Egypt and the Arab world.