The lessons from Egypt were immense. It is now obvious that ordinary people can deliver extraordinary results.
Whenever Wael Ghonim visits Nigeria, I will be honoured to buy him a drink for two reasons. Firstly, I have stolen the title of his book for this week’s article; secondly, he inspires me.
Before 2010, Wael Ghonim was a “nobody” except outside the offices of Google, where he was the Head of Marketing for Google in Middle East & North Africa. His initial foray into online activism was a Facebook page he set up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohammed ElBaradei, who was seen as the great hope of Egypt. He soon realized the need to remain politically neutral and started another page called “We are all Khaled Said” in memory of a young Egyptian boy tortured and murdered by the police in Alexandria. The page had over 400,000 friends, and was used to coordinate a series of small protests against the Egyptian Government led by Hosni Mubarak. Like most remarkable stories, the Egyptian revolution got an unlikely push, this time from Tunisia.
At the time young Egyptians started to express their discontentment with the government, a Tunisian man also decided to take control of his destiny in nearby Tunis. On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His action set the stage for the Tunisian revolution, and later, the Arab Spring.
In the heat of the Tunisian revolution, there were doubts about the Egyptian online movement. According to Ghonim, someone said, “No one will do anything and you’ll see. All we do is post on Facebook. We are the Facebook generation, period.” His response was to change the name of the planned protest from “Celebrating Egyptian Police Day – January 25” to “January 25: Revolution against Torture, Poverty, Corruption, and Unemployment”.
He did what many of us only dream about; he took an extended leave from his attractive job, and returned to Egypt on the eve of the protest. He was arrested soon after and spent almost two weeks in solitary confinement, before the regime released him in a move to appease the protesters and quell the riots. On 11 February 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt, and it seemed the job of people like Wael Ghonim was done.
In the months that followed, it became obvious that the revolution’s strength was also its biggest weakness; the lack of apparent leaders. During the protests, the government was unable to quell the riots because there were no leaders, no rallying points to dismantle. As the military took over, albeit temporarily, it became obvious there was a leadership vacuum that would be difficult to fill.
In June 2012, Egypt held the second multi party presidential election in its history. The leading candidates, Mohammed Morsi (the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq (the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak), were akin to choosing between a rock and a hard place. This was evident as only 43.4% of registered voters turned up to vote. In the end, Mohammed Morsi was elected President of Egypt. The popular choice, Mohammed ElBaradei withdrew his candidacy in protest against the road map of transition and called it a “travesty” to elect a president before a new constitution has been drafted.
The lessons from Egypt were immense. It is now obvious that ordinary people can deliver extraordinary results. It is also clear that radical change must be accompanied with a viable alternative to governance; it is pointless to go through a bloody change only to hand power over to another breed of tyrants. However, the biggest lesson from Egypt is perhaps something we rarely believe; the power of the people is greater than the people in power.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.