Missing Google executive in Egypt to be released

Monday, February 7, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - A senior Google executive, who mysteriously went missing over a week ago after emerging as a key figure in the Egypt protests against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, is going to be released Monday, his family said.

Wael Ghonim, who is in his 30s, is a political activist and Google’s top executive in the Middle East.

During his disappearance, Wall Street Journal reported that Ghonim emerged as a central symbol of the anti-Mubarak protests, cast as the face of a movement and hero in the cause of democracy.

The protest organisers at downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square adopted him as a symbolic leader. The demonstrations against Mubarak entered the 14th day Monday. Mubarak has said he is ready to leave, but not now.

The defiant protesters, who suspected that he may have been arrested, declared that they wouldn’t leave the square until he was freed.

Nearly a fortnight into the protest Sunday, Egyptian authorities spoke up on Ghonim’s fate.

“They told us they’ll probably bring him to us, and that he will likely be escorted by security,” Ghonim’s brother, Hazem, was quoted as saying.

Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire businessman, said Sunday that Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman told him that Ghonim would be released.

“The boy is a hero.

“When he is released he will become the living hero of this revolution,” Sawiris said.

Ghonim is considered to be part of a small group of political activists in Egypt whose online efforts helped spark the ongoing demonstrations, the media report said.

“I said one year ago that the Internet will change the political scene in Egypt and some Friends made fun of me :),” Mr. Ghonim wrote on his personal Facebook profile for friends after two days of protests in Cairo. The next day, Jan 28, he disappeared.

Ghonim’s Facebook profile lists ElBaradei as someone he admires besides Microsoft founder Bill Gates, billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Apple founder Steve Jobs.

He tweeted as the protests began: “Revolution can be a #Facebook event that is liked, shared and tweeted.”

As it became clear it would become the biggest protest yet, Ghonim’s tweeted messages reflected an ominous tone.

“Pray for #Egypt,” he said.

“We are all ready to die.”

It was unclear as to what exact role Ghonim played in organising the protest movement that began Jan 25.

A year before the protests began, Ghonim was one of four administrators running the first of the major Facebook pages that became a virtual headquarters for the movement, said an Internet activist familiar with the situation.

Ghonim is also credited with setting up the official campaign website for opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei.

After Ghonim’s disappearance Jan 28, eight other members of the tech-savvy group that worked closely with ElBaradei were also arrested, one of their colleagues said.

Seven of them were arrested while they were having dinner at a restaurant near ElBaradei’s headquarters in Cairo, according to al-Alimi of ElBaradei’s organisation in Cairo.

Heba Morayef, Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that those seven have been released from custody.

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