Wael Ghonim and the People of Egypt

2011 PICA Winner Wael Ghonim and Caroline Kennedy

Wael Ghonim received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in the name of the People of Egypt.

In June 2010, in response to the ruthless killing of Alexandria businessman Khaled Said by Egyptian police, Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian Google executive living and working in Dubai, anonymously launched a Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Said,” to condemn the killing. Even anonymous criticism of the repressive regime of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was uncommon; police brutality and torture of both dissidents and ordinary citizens was widespread in Egypt. Ghonim’s anonymous protest page quickly became a popular and powerful tool for Egyptian activists seeking to mobilize public opposition to human rights abuses.

In January 2011, inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia that brought down the repressive and long-ruling regime there, Ghonim and other activists used social media to call upon Egyptians to launch their own large-scale pro-democracy protests. On January 25, in response to activists’ call for a “Day of Revolt,” tens of thousands of ordinary Egyptians joined protests and demonstrations throughout Egypt. In Cairo, Ghonim was among the demonstrators.

The demonstrations of January 25 sparked an unprecedented outpouring of anger and resolve in which Egyptians abandoned their fear and gathered together to stand up for themselves and their country. Egyptian women, long accustomed to staying silent, became key players in the protests. When government security forces resorted to violence in a bid to stifle the movement, Egyptians from all walks of life courageously stood their ground. Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured. Key activists began to disappear. But the demonstrations continued, the people undeterred. On January 28, Wael Ghonim went missing. Twelve days later, under heavy international pressure, the Egyptian police released him unharmed. He immediately returned to Tahrir Square, where his courageous appearance galvanized and strengthened the protest movement. Three days later, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fled the capitol.

The 2011 Profile in Courage Award was presented to Wael Ghonim in honor of all Egyptians who stood up, at great personal risk, for the principles of democracy and self-governance. They have all set a powerful example of political courage that inspires the world.