10:08
TED2011

Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian revolution

Filmed:

Wael Ghonim is the Google executive who helped jumpstart Egypt's democratic revolution ... with a Facebook page memorializing a victim of the regime's violence. Speaking at TEDxCairo, he tells the inside story of the past two months, when everyday Egyptians showed that "the power of the people is stronger than the people in power."

- Internet activist and computer engineer
Wael Ghonim believes that the Internet can be the most powerful platform for connecting humanity, if we can bring civility and thoughtful conversations back to it. Full bio

This is Revolution 2.0.
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No one was a hero. No one was a hero.
00:18
Because everyone was a hero.
00:21
Everyone has done something.
00:25
We all use Wikipedia.
00:28
If you think of the concept of Wikipedia
00:30
where everyone is collaborating on content,
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and at the end of the day
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you've built the largest encyclopedia in the world.
00:37
From just an idea that sounded crazy,
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you have the largest encyclopedia in the world.
00:43
And in the Egyptian revolution,
00:46
the Revolution 2.0,
00:48
everyone has contributed something,
00:50
small or big. They contributed something --
00:52
to bring us
00:55
one of the most inspiring stories
00:57
in the history of mankind
01:00
when it comes to revolutions.
01:02
It was actually really inspiring
01:04
to see all these Egyptians completely changing.
01:06
If you look at the scene,
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Egypt, for 30 years, had been in a downhill --
01:11
going into a downhill.
01:14
Everything was going bad.
01:16
Everything was going wrong.
01:18
We only ranked high when it comes to poverty,
01:21
corruption,
01:24
lack of freedom of speech,
01:26
lack of political activism.
01:28
Those were the achievements
01:30
of our great regime.
01:32
Yet, nothing was happening.
01:36
And it's not because people were happy
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or people were not frustrated.
01:40
In fact, people were extremely frustrated.
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But the reason why everyone was silent
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is what I call the psychological barrier of fear.
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Everyone was scared.
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Not everyone. There were actually a few brave Egyptians
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that I have to thank for being so brave --
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going into protests as a couple of hundred,
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getting beaten up and arrested.
02:02
But in fact, the majority were scared.
02:05
Everyone did not want really
02:08
to get in trouble.
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A dictator cannot live without the force.
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They want to make people live in fear.
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And that psychological barrier of fear
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had worked for so many years,
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and here comes the Internet,
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technology, BlackBerry, SMS.
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It's helping all of us to connect.
02:29
Platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook
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were helping us a lot
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because it basically gave us the impression that, "Wow, I'm not alone.
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There are a lot of people who are frustrated."
02:41
There are lots of people who are frustrated.
02:43
There are lots of people who actually share the same dream.
02:45
There are lots of people who care about their freedom.
02:48
They probably have the best life in the world.
02:51
They are living in happiness. They are living in their villas.
02:53
They are happy. They don't have problems.
02:56
But they are still feeling the pain of the Egyptian.
02:58
A lot of us, we're not really happy
03:02
when we see a video of an Egyptian man
03:04
who's eating the trash
03:06
while others are stealing
03:08
billions of Egyptian pounds
03:10
from the wealth of the country.
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The Internet has played a great role,
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helping these people to speak up their minds,
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to collaborate together, to start thinking together.
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It was an educational campaign.
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Khaled Saeed was killed
03:25
in June 2010.
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I still remember the photo.
03:30
I still remember every single detail of that photo.
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The photo was horrible.
03:35
He was tortured,
03:38
brutally tortured to death.
03:40
But then what was the answer of the regime?
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"He choked on a pile of hash" --
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that was their answer:
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"He's a criminal.
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He's someone who escaped from all these bad things."
03:52
But people did not relate to this.
03:54
People did not believe this.
03:56
Because of the Internet, the truth prevailed
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and everyone knew the truth.
04:01
And everyone started to think that "this guy could be my brother."
04:03
He was a middle-class guy.
04:06
His photo was remembered by all of us.
04:08
A page was created.
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An anonymous administrator
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was basically inviting people to join the page,
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and there was no plan.
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"What are we going to do?" "I don't know."
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In a few days, tens of thousands of people there --
04:22
angry Egyptians
04:25
who were asking the ministry of interior affairs,
04:27
"Enough.
04:30
Get those who killed this guy.
04:32
To just bring them to justice."
04:35
But of course, they don't listen.
04:37
It was an amazing story --
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how everyone started feeling the ownership.
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Everyone was an owner in this page.
04:44
People started contributing ideas.
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In fact, one of the most ridiculous ideas
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was, "Hey, let's have a silent stand.
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Let's get people to go in the street,
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face the sea, their back to the street,
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dressed in black, standing up silently for one hour,
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doing nothing and then just leaving,
05:02
going back home."
05:04
For some people, that was like, "Wow, silent stand.
05:06
And next time it's going to be vibration."
05:09
People were making fun of the idea.
05:11
But actually when people went to the street --
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the first time it was thousands of people
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in Alexandria --
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it felt like -- it was amazing. It was great
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because it connected people from the virtual world,
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bringing them to the real world,
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sharing the same dream,
05:27
the same frustration, the same anger,
05:30
the same desire for freedom.
05:32
And they were doing this thing.
05:34
But did the regime learn anything? Not really.
05:36
They were actually attacking them.
05:38
They were actually abusing them,
05:40
despite the fact of how peaceful these guys were --
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they were not even protesting.
05:44
And things had developed
05:46
until the Tunisian revolution.
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This whole page was, again,
05:52
managed by the people.
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In fact, the anonymous admin job
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was to collect ideas,
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help people to vote on them
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and actually tell them what they are doing.
06:03
People were taking shots and photos;
06:05
people were reporting violations of human rights in Egypt;
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people were suggesting ideas,
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they were actually voting on ideas,
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and then they were executing the ideas; people were creating videos.
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Everything was done by the people to the people,
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and that's the power of the Internet.
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There was no leader.
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The leader was everyone on that page.
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The Tunisian experiment, as Amir was saying,
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inspired all of us, showed us that there is a way.
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Yes we can. We can do it.
06:30
We have the same problems;
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we can just go in the streets.
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And when I saw the street on the 25th,
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I went back and said,
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"Egypt before the 25th
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is never going to be Egypt after the 25th.
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The revolution is happening.
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This is not the end,
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this is the beginning of the end."
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I was detained on the 27th night.
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Thank God I announced the locations and everything.
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But they detained me.
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And I'm not going to talk about my experience, because this is not about me.
07:01
I was detained for 12 days,
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blindfolded, handcuffed.
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And I did not really hear anything. I did not know anything.
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I was not allowed to speak with anyone.
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And I went out.
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The next day I was in Tahrir.
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Seriously, with the amount of change I had noticed in this square,
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I thought it was 12 years.
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I never had in my mind
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to see this Egyptian,
07:26
the amazing Egyptian.
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The fear is no longer fear.
07:30
It's actually strength -- it's power.
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People were so empowered.
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It was amazing how everyone was so empowered
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and now asking for their rights.
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Completely opposite.
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Extremism became tolerance.
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Who would [have] imagined before the 25th,
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if I tell you that hundreds of thousands of Christians are going to pray
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and tens of thousands of Muslims are going to protect them,
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and then hundreds of thousands of Muslims are going to pray
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and tens of thousands of Christians are going to protect them --
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this is amazing.
07:57
All the stereotypes
07:59
that the regime was trying to put on us
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through their so-called propaganda, or mainstream media,
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are proven wrong.
08:07
This whole revolution showed us
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how ugly such a regime was
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and how great and amazing
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the Egyptian man, the Egyptian woman,
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how simple and amazing these people are
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whenever they have a dream.
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When I saw that,
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I went back and I wrote on Facebook.
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And that was a personal belief,
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regardless of what's going on,
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regardless of the details.
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I said that, "We are going to win.
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We are going to win because we don't understand politics.
08:36
We're going to win because we don't play their dirty games.
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We're going to win because we don't have an agenda.
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We're going to win because the tears that come from our eyes
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actually come from our hearts.
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We're going to win because we have dreams.
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We're going to win because we are willing to stand up for our dreams."
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And that's actually what happened. We won.
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And that's not because of anything,
09:02
but because we believed in our dream.
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The winning here is not
09:06
the whole details of what's going to happen in the political scene.
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The winning is the winning of the dignity
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of every single Egyptian.
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Actually, I had this taxi driver telling me,
09:16
"Listen, I am breathing freedom.
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I feel that I have dignity
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that I have lost for so many years."
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For me that's winning,
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regardless of all the details.
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My last word to you is a statement I believe in,
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which Egyptians have proven to be true,
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that the power of the people
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is much stronger than the people in power.
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Thanks a lot.
09:40
(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Wael Ghonim - Internet activist and computer engineer
Wael Ghonim believes that the Internet can be the most powerful platform for connecting humanity, if we can bring civility and thoughtful conversations back to it.

Why you should listen

Wael Ghonim is a computer engineer, an Internet activist, and a social entrepreneur. He is a co-founder of Parlio, a new media platform for public conversations that rewards civility, which has been acquired by Quora. Wael is a senior fellow at Ash Center for Democratic Governance at Harvard University.

Wael spent 6 years at Google during which he used to head up Marketing and Product in the MENA region responsible of driving the growth of Google's products across the region and evangelizing the use of the Internet and growing the Arabic content in the region.

In 2011, Wael was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was named one of Time 100's most influential and received JFK Profile in Courage Award. Coined the "keyboard freedom fighter," he used the power of the internet and social media to fight for social justice, democracy and human rights in Egypt.

He is the founder of "Tahrir Academy", a nonprofit online knowledge sharing platform for Arab youth. Wael received his Bachelor's Degree in Computer Engineering from Cairo University and earned an MBA from the American University in Cairo.

More profile about the speaker
Wael Ghonim | Speaker | TED.com