Criticisms of Wael Ghonim Reveal Issues for a New Egypt

The youth of Egypt have started to turn against Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was influential in starting the wave of protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s ousting earlier this year. Twitter is abuzz with reasons why people are ‘unfollowing’ him since Mubarak’s ousting.

Ghonim's opponents feel like he has abandoned the cause since Mubarak stepped down. His focus shifted to larger issues, such as reviving the Egyptian economy. He has discussed tourism and has met with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet it is in these critiques that the larger issue is seen; the same people denouncing Ghonim are failing to step up and shape the future, beyond just continuing with protests.

The people have finally found their voice. Unfortunately, there are so many speaking about so many issues at once; it’s hard to hear what anyone is saying.

The demonstrations in Egypt are ongoing, continuing since Mubarak stepped down, and have resulted in investigations of suspected wrongdoing. There have been significant changes in laws, favoring Egyptian women married to Palestinian men and the right of their children to be considered Egyptian. Demonstrators can even be credited for the investigation into the Mubarak family’s accumulation of wealth during Hosni’s rule.

However, this is not enough. In reading the Twitter posts against Ghonim and in witnessing the events that followed Mubarak's resignation, it is painfully clear that some of the most vocal people lack a full understanding of what it takes to move forward in building a new, more open political system and in getting the country back on its feet.

Furthering the political reforms and shaping a post-Mubarak Egypt will require prioritizing changes. Of course no one wants to let issues go unaddressed at the moment, but to change 30 years of corruption in a few short months is impossible. The people's focus should be on the presidential elections and making sure the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) doesn't revert to its old ways.

One tweet scorned Ghonim for discussing tourism when there are so many other issues. However, the critics don’t seem to fully appreciate how important tourism is for the country; it is one of the top five contributors to Egypt's GDP and attracts investors. This is important because Egypt's economy is in trouble. Millions of dollars were lost during the protests that began on January 25, and despite attempts to reopen the stock market, millions more were lost. While the stock market is beginning to rebound, it took months and required the leadership of major companies to change; this demonstrates that anyone associated with the old regime can no longer be a part of Egypt's future. In light of this, the critique seems short-sighted.

Tourism significantly declined since the start of the protests, declining even more since the sectarian clashes erupted earlier this month in Imbaba when two Coptic churches were burned down, leaving twelve dead and hundreds injured. The sit-in protest responding to these burnings was met with violence, while the police and the military were nowhere to be seen. These events further spread fear that Egypt remains unsafe and unstable.

Protests at the Israeli embassy also ended with violence, this time at the hands of the army. The military, once a welcomed friend during the protests have since turned into another reminder that the old regime is still lingering in power. The Commander-in-Chief of Egypt’s Supreme Council of SCAF, Mohamed Tantawi, and Mubarak were close allies. In light of this recent violence, people want Ghonim to criticize the army. In a country where criticizing the army is now a crime, punishable by imprisonment, addressing other issues is not as foolish as it appears. It’s hard to accomplish anything when you’re sitting behind bars.

There appears to be very little leadership on the part of the protesters. This is incredibly problematic because people continue to protest without developing any pro-active counter plans to SCAF. Egyptians are unhappy, and rightfully so, but they need to effectively channel their energies. Making protests informative to others about their projects while spreading support for presidential candidates is a start. Any significant change requires a commitment beyond business as usual, as well as night and weekend participation in demonstrations.

There is talk of another ‘revolution’ beginning May 20. I would love to see them be assertive and direct, to see them working on preparing constitutional changes, and to see them educating people on why they support specific presidential candidates while deciding what issues will be prioritized as they move forward.

Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Neill

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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