A Google executive who was reported missing on January 28 has been released on Monday by Egyptian authorities. Wael Ghonim spoke with media about his incarceration humbling telling everyone that he was no hero. Ghonim, Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, said he was seized in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, late last month when he joined tens of thousands of protesters in the city’s Tahrir Square. Three plainclothes men picked him up on the street, pushed into a car and took him for interrogation by state security members. He was apparently blindfolded so he could not see his captors but was not tortured and was treated with respect.
Ghonim became something of a hero to demonstrators since he went missing on Jan. 27; two days after the protests began. He did confirm that he was the administrator of the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said”, one of the main tools for organizing the demonstration that started the movement on Jan. 25. – Khaled Said, a 28-year-old businessman, was dragged from a cafe and beaten to death by police in June of last year which set off months of protests against the hated police. – No one knew where Ghonim was until Sunday when it was confirmed he was under arrest and would soon be released.
Mass protests continue today in the Egyptian capital. It is said that the release of Ghonim and the televised interviews with him are instilling the pro-democracy crowds with a new wave of optimism. Demonstrators are refusing to leave their tent city in Tahrir Square until their demands are met, that is, the immediate end to Mubarak’s rule.
On Monday, the government offered a pay raise to public-sector workers in an attempt to appease the protesters but this was met with some disdain by the pro-democracy camp as being too little of a concession to their demands. On Tuesday however, Omar Suleiman, the country’s newly appointed vice-president, did announce that Mubarak intends on setting up a committee to carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power.
Al Jazeera is calling Ghonim’s release on Monday "highly significant". In this on-going contest of wills between the protesters and the government, who is going to blink first? There can be no doubt that the tipping point has been crossed and the government cannot in any way maintain the status quo. Change is going to happen; it is happening right now. Mubarak has apparently promised not to arrest or charge any one of those who took part in the protests.
Al Jazeera points out how the protest itself has been missing a figurehead, a single leader around whom everyone can rally. Despite Ghonim’s admissions of not being a hero because of his confinement, could he turn out to be such a person?
It is reported that elsewhere in Egypt, people are trying to get back to normal. While people agree with the protesters, many Egyptians are feeling the pinch of not working. Egypt is a Third World country where the per capita income is around $6,000 US per year. In comparison, Canada is almost $40,000 US. Consequently, having your job interrupted translates into a bigger economic hit for your average Egyptian and the disruption in business is having an effect of many, especially in the tourism industry. While life beyond Tahrir Square is getting back to normal in other parts of Cairo with some shops and banks open, the area around the pyramids supposedly remains closed.
Egyptian activist recounts arrest
Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive and internet activist who was released on Monday after being arrested and held for 12 days, gave a short interview to Egypt’s On TV.
Al Jazeera – Feb 7/2011
Scenes from Tahrir Square: Tent Village
In the six days since anti-government demonstrators defended central Cairo in vicious street battles, the occupied square has turned into a warden of semi-permanent housing.
Al Jazeera – Feb 7/2011
Violence in Egypt clashes
Al Jazeera has obtained footage showing violent clashes between Mubarak loyalists and pro-democracy protesters on the night between February 2 and 3.
In one clip, Mubarak loyalists are seen driving into a crowd of pro-democracy protesters, who then set upon them.
In another, shots are fired on protesters on a bridge.
Ayman Mohyeldin on his detention
Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Cairo who was held by the military outside Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Monday, has spoken to the network about the experience following his release.
"As we have been for the past several weeks, we’ve been reporting daily from Liberation Square, and yesterday as I was making my way into Liberation Square I was essentially stopped by the Egyptian military," said Mohyeldin.
"There was a young recruit there … who asked me for my identification. And when I presented him with my identification, he asked me ‘What you are coming to do?’."
"I simply said I was a journalist, I didn’t really have any major equipment on me, just a small camera and my cellphones.
"Immediately it seemed like he was taken aback, suprised perhaps by my identity. At that time they didn’t know who I was working for, and they didn’t ask me, really.
"It was just the mere fact that I was a journalist who was trying to go into Liberation Square that seemed to be enough for them to take me for further questioning."
Mohyeldin describes how he was taken to a separate holding area, where he was handcuffed with plastic strips, had his equipment taken off him and was interrogated.
At least two other journalists were already present at the holding area.
Other detainees appeared to have been severely beaten, intimidated and at least one person broke down in tears under the pressure.
While foreign journalists were released fairly quickly, Mohyeldin and a Reuters cameraman of Palestinian descent were held for an extended period.
All of the detainees who were released were told to sign a document that said that they would not attempt to return to Tahrir Square without permission from the military.
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