Image: Wael Ghonim talking with microphone
Ahmed Ali  /  AP
Egyptian Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager, talks at his home in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 7. He was held in Egypt for nearly two weeks over anti-government protests, and was freed Monday. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali) staff and news service reports
updated 2/7/2011 5:52:00 PM ET 2011-02-07T22:52:00

Egypt on Monday released Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who became a hero of anti-government protesters after he vanished nearly two weeks ago while taking part in demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters in Cairo's central Tahrir Square say Ghonim, a marketing manager for the search giant, was one of the main organizers of the Facebook online campaign that sparked the mass protests on Jan. 25. He went missing on Jan. 27 and his whereabouts were not known until Sunday, when a prominent Egyptian political figure confirmed he was under arrest and would soon be released.

Related story:Protesters cheer Google exec in Tahrir Square hero's welcome

Ghonim, a 30-year-old man with an American wife and two children, gave interviews following his release, according to the international blog Global Voices. In a discussion with Egypt's DreamTV, Ghonim shared details of his ordeal.

"I was taking a taxi, suddenly four people surrounded the car, I yelled 'Help me, Help me' I was blindfolded then taken away," Ghonim said, according to Twitter posts by journalist Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, who translated the interview.

"The treatment was very good, they knew I was a good Egyptian. I was blindfolded for 12 days, I didn't see their faces," Ghonim said.

Despite this "good" treatment, Ghonim did witness violence. "I saw a film director get slapped, they told him 'You will die here' Why?" said the translation.

Now that Ghonim is free, he is catching up on what has happened since his imprisonment.

"We have to restore dignity to all Egyptians. We have to end corruption. No more theft. Egyptians are good people."

"This is not the time to split the pie & enforce ideologies. The secret to the success of the Facebook page was use of surveys," he added.

Ghonim was later shown on ON TV on his way to a close relative's home conversing energetically in a car with Hossam Badrawi, the new secretary general of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party.

Ghonim told ON TV: "Please don't make me a hero. I'm not a hero. I have been asleep for 12 days. I hope that we would be able to put an end to all the rubbish in this country. The rubbish really needs to be cleaned up."

Ghonim added that the initial intention behind the organized protests in Egypt was that they be peaceful.

Orascom Telecom Chairman Naguib Sawiris said on Sunday that the authorities had promised him Ghonim, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, would be freed.

Google said last week that Ghonim had not been seen since Jan. 27 and began a public search for him, giving out a telephone number for information about him.

Activists said Ghonim had been involved in founding "We are all Khaled Said", an anti-torture Facebook group named after an activist who rights groups said was beaten to death by police in the port city of Alexandria. Two officers now face trial.

In a new interview with The Daily Beast, Ghonim said that he was "El Shaheeed," one of the anonymous creators of the Facbook group. The name (spelled that way by Ghonim on his site), means "the martyr" in Arabic. He started the Facebook page after seeing what had happened to Said.

"That killed me. I felt in pain. And I wanted to do something," he told The Daily Beast. "It happened that I created this page, and it happened that 375,000 people [are] on it. So I'm using it to reveal the truth that the government is trying to hide."

"Ghonim's Facebook page started as a small campaign against police brutality but quickly mushroomed into an all-out effort against human-rights abuses in Egypt," the story said, adding that the crowd-sourcing nature of Facebook helped Ghonim's group monitor fraud in Egypt's November parliamentary elections.

Despite the attention drawn to Ghonim, he does not seem to want to take a leadership role in the protests. "This isn’t about me," he told The Daily Beast. "It's about Egypt."

The Wall Street Journal says that eight others from Ghonim's "tech-savvy group" who support opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei were also arrested. Seven were collected at the same time, while eating dinner in a restaurant. They have been released from custody. The eighth detainee, a lawyer, had not been located at the time of the WSJ report.

Protests on a scale unprecedented during President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule have raged across the most populous Arab country since Jan. 25.

More on Ghonim:Protesters cheer Google exec in Tahrir Square hero's welcome

Wire services Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013

Video: In Egypt, new media is part of message

  1. Transcript of: In Egypt, new media is part of message

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And this so-called people's revolution in Cairo was coming for some time. Its roots are in years of social discontent in Egypt , including high unemployment and a whole lot of educated young people just out of college with zero prospect for a job. It was helped along by neighboring Tunisia , and it got a push from social media , as we saw while we were there. And some of those who had put the word out are now a part of the story. We're going to be looking closely this week at the roots of the rage and revolution in Egypt , beginning tonight with NBC 's Ron Allen in Cairo .

    RON ALLEN reporting: After 12 days of police detention, Wael Ghonim is a free man. 'I am fine,' he said. 'And God willing , we will change our country.' The release of the 30-year-old Google executive and online activist gave protesters another reason to celebrate. He first became a hero last June, when he and others launched Facebook pages condemning the death of a young man allegedly beaten to death by police. Protests back then against chronic unemployment, oppression and corruption led to the demonstrations now filling Cairo 's main square. And in a country without a free press or free speech, activists insist new media helped get the word out.

    Mr. MAHMOUD SALEM: Facebook and Twitter were kind of like the tool that got people organized.

    ALLEN: Meet Mahmoud Salem , Egyptian digital media businessman and a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston . Online he calls himself Sandmonkey ; a name intended, he says, to poke fun at political correctness.

    Mr. SALEM: I had to like come out as, you know, my real name and my real face because if we don't stand up, you know, then there's no point to this whole revolution.

    ALLEN: He's connected with nearly 20,000 followers. As the protests began, "The revolt continues. Egypt won't stop, won't give in." And just this weekend, "Start registering the protesters, get their names, addresses and districts. Start organizing them into committees." In the crowds, young people like Lobna Akrub say social media helped them understand what was really going on.

    Ms. LOBNA AKRUB: Twitter and Facebook gave people a chance to see the real picture, to see the hurt, the injured people.

    ALLEN: A new weapon in an old fight, helping Egyptians do


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