Wael Ghonim, a manager in Google Inc.'s Middle East and North Africa marketing divisions, has emerged as one of the prime catalysts in the recent uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
In January, the 30-year-old man created a Facebook page called "We Are All Khaled Said," named in honour of the 27-year-old Egyptian blogger beaten to death by police in June. The Facebook page, which was operated anonymously under the handle "El Shaheed" (the martyr), became a rallying point for the anti-government protests that began on Jan. 25.
On Jan. 27, Ghonim went missing. On his Twitter feed that day, he wrote this chilling note: "Pray for #Egypt. Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die #Jan25."
For several days, family, friends and Google co-workers struggled to determine Ghonim's whereabouts. It was discovered that he was being held by Egyptian authorities.
After 12 days in detention, Ghonim was released on Feb. 7. That night, he did a highly emotional interview on Dream 2, a private Egyptian channel, in which he confirmed that he was the administrator of the Facebook page. Ghonim also created the official web site for Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner who has emerged as one of the most visible opponents of Mubarak, according to Ziad Al-Alimi, a senior aide to ElBaradei.
Ghonim said that he had not been tortured while in detention, but Egyptian officers did interrogate him relentlessly about how the anti-government protests were organized.
In the TV interview, he stressed that the Facebook page was the work of many contributors. "This was a revolution of the youth of all of Egypt," he said. "I'm not a hero."
A longtime Internet activist, Ghonim has a computer engineering degree from Cairo University and an MBA in marketing and finance from the American University in Cairo. Born in Cairo, he grew up the United Arab Emirates and currently resides in Dubai.
Several commentators have pointed out that by targeting and detaining Ghonim, Egyptian authorities have only legitimized him as a leader in the uprising.
More than 130,000 people have now joined another Facebook group backing Ghonim as the spokesperson for the revolt. On Feb. 8, Ghonim arrived to a hero's welcome in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where thousands amassed to catch a glimpse of him.
Ghonim has been modest, if not downright ambivalent, about emerging as a leader of the rebellion.
"That was not my plan, and I hate it, but it was out of my hands," he said.