Wael Ghonim. Photo: IMF/Flickr (cc)

If you want to free a society, just give them internet access!

Today’s blog post is written by Mats Samuelsson, editor at the International Editorial Office at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He is currently involved in the Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development, SIF13.

Egyptian Wael Ghonim will be in Stockholm on 22 and 23 May for the major conference Stockholm Internet Forum. There he will take to the stage to discuss internet freedom with Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt.

Wael Ghonim is a rather unlikely hero.

As Google’s Head of Marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, based in Dubai, he started a Facebook group in support of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian killed after being arrested by Egyptian police in Alexandria in the summer of 2010.

The Facebook group became a channel through which Wael Ghonim engaged and coordinated demonstrators against the Mubarak regime. The protests broke out in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 25 January 2011, a day that has gone down in history as the ‘day of wrath’.

Wael Ghonim soon left Dubai to take part in the revolution himself. He was imprisoned and held blindfolded for eleven days.

He has subsequently been hailed internationally as one of the most important figures behind the Arab Spring, interviewed by US television programme 60 Minutes and ranked as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2011 by Time magazine. He has also published a book entitled ‘Revolution 2.0’.

“If you want to free a society, just give them internet access,” he says.

“The young crowds are all going to go out and see the truth about other nations and their own nation, and they will be able to communicate and collaborate together!”.

He sees the Arab Spring as an internet-driven revolution. Now he is one of 400 exciting guests, from 90 countries, attending the Stockholm Internet Forum on 22 and 23 May.

All of the sessions will be webcast live. Why not follow the debate yourself?

Mats Samuelsson

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