Missing Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim has been found! He was in government custody, of course, and he'll be released on Monday. And, as it turns out, Ghonim was a "key figure" in Egypt's ongoing uprising.
Ghonim, head of Middle East marketing for Google and the company's top executive in the area, disappeared mysteriously last week, leaving behind a trail of Twitter messages about his participation in the anti-government protests in late January. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, Ghonim didn't only participate in the demonstrations—he was instrumental in setting the stage for their existence:
Last year, Mr. Ghonim was one of four administrators running the first of the major Facebook pages that became a virtual headquarters for the protest movement, according to a collaborator in the political opposition, and also according to an Internet activist familiar with the situation. Mr. Ghonim also set up the official campaign website for opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and volunteered as a tech consultant for other opposition groups, according to Ziad Al-Alimi, a senior aide to Mr. ElBaradei.
That Facebook page—the "virtual headquarters"—was the one created in memory of Khaled Said, the 28-year-old Egyptian who was beaten to death by police in June 2010. That group was taken down by Facebook—the first in a string of unbelievably unhelpful decisions by the social networking giant—and a second group, "We Are All Khaled Said," was created.
Though the administrators of the second group were anonymous, most people seem to assume that one was Ghonim. And in that spirit, Ghonim has apparently become a "symbolic leader" of the protestors in Tahrir Square, cited in speeches and named on signs. "The boy is a hero," businessman Naguib Sawiris told the Journal. "When he is released he will become the living hero of this revolution."
Google won't comment on whether or not Ghonim violated company policies. But between its association with Ghonim and its sponsorship of Twitter block-circumventing program speak2tweet, it's certainly showing Facebook how internet companies should be responding to democratic, popular uprisings—by not being evil.
[WSJ; images via AP and Google]