AbdelRahman Mansour is the cyberactivist who set the date of 25 January for the Egyptian revolution. It is time for you to meet him.
In June 2010, Wael Ghonim set up the Facebook page and anti-torture campaign in honor of Khaled Said, the Alexandrian killed at the hands of police. Abdulrahman joined him as a co-administrator (admin) on the page three days later. The two had been working together on Mohamed ElBaradei’s Facebook page and were ready to take their cyber-campaigning to the next level. The combination of AbdelRahman’s deftness at interacting with Arab cyberyouth, combined with Ghonim’s expert online marketing skills, made for a winning combination. The “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook made history as the page to grow a youth movement, and, after Tunisia, ignite a revolution.
AbdelRahman came up with the idea of turning the national holiday for Police Day on 25 January into a Facebook event, “Revolution of the Egyptian People” (Thawrat Shaab Misr). Ghonim, who had been branding the page as a non-violent anti-torture campaign, not a revolutionary movement, did not think this a good idea. After some convincing, he reluctantly agreed. No one thought the event would trigger an actual revolution and lead to the fall of the thirty-year rule of Hosni Mubarak; a host of other social forces and groups came into play to make that happen. The fact remains that AbdelRahman Mansour is the activist who set 25 January as an enduring date in history.
Unlike the unmasking of his co-admin, Wael Ghonim, which was an international media sensation, AbdelRahman Mansour has been almost entirely overlooked or missed. As Ghonim has risen as a heroic symbol of the revolution—earning awards, speaking engagements, and a seven-figure book deal, Mansour has gone unsung, at least in the western press. What explains this celebration of one admin and anonymity of the other?
The first explanation is that Ghonim has the backing of the corporate giant Google, his employer, and is fluent in English. Mansour, seven years Ghonim’s junior, is more connected and comfortable in an Arabic speaking milieu. Ghonim underplayed Mansour’s role in his book, Revolution 2.0, presumably for Mansour’s own protection. But Ghonim later posted an Arabic note on Facebook, “An Egyptian Whose Name is AbdelRahman Mansour” giving him full credit for his stewardship of the page. A second explanation is that on 17 January, Mansour was called to serve his compulsory military service. He was literally locked away in military barracks with no access to communications. Nevertheless, his friends thought it unfair that Ghonim was getting all the credit for the Khaled Said page. On 21 February 2011, Shady Ghazali Harb, a representative of the Democratic Front Party and member of the Revolution’s Youth Coalition, called into the popular Egyptian television program, “10 p.m. Show” (Al Ashera Masa`an). During a live on-air conversation with the host he disclosed Mansour’s identity as the other admin of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page. He explained that activists did not come forward earlier because they were not sure if it would put Mansour at risk during his military service. Some local news outlets, including Al-Jazeera and Ahram Online, picked up the story. AbdelRahman became a folk hero among the “Facebook youth” in Egypt and the Arab world. At least two Facebook groups were created in his honor: “We are all Abdel Rahman Mansour,” and “Abdel Rahman Mansour.”
Mansour, who kept a low profile even after finishing his military service, finally had a proper public coming out on 3 December 2012, when he appeared on Yousry Fouda’s program, “Last Words” (Akher Kalam). He explained, “What made me decide to talk now is because after electing the first post-revolution civilian president, we continue to witness the same form of dictatorship and tyranny [that we had before the revolution].” He called on his fellow Egyptians to protest Mohamed Morsi’s power grab.
Since the age of seventeen AbdelRahman Mansour has been involved in some of the most pioneering and popular Arabic new media initiatives of the times. He lives online and says, “For me, the internet, technology, is like water. It is part of anything I do in my life.” His first professional job in 2004 was working with the website and television show of the wildly popular televangelist, Amr Khaled. He then went on to be one of the founders of Wikileaks Arabic. At the same time he was an active blogger and a contributor to “Kulina Layla,” an annual feminist event. He also worked as an online reporter with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.
AbdelRahman’s activism seamlessly moves between the virtual and physical worlds, though his online presence resonates far wider and louder. He attended his first street demonstration in 2003 with his parents, both long time members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to protest the invasion of Iraq. In 2005, the year of Egyptian parliamentary and presidential elections, he joined the Kefaya movement. He stepped up his anti-Mubarak activism while a freshman at Mansoura University. With a group of friends he produced a satirical political magazine, “Town Guys” (Awlad El Balad). At that time he was active in the Muslim Brotherhood, but left the group due to differences of opinion. He explains, “I cannot say there was one single reason for leaving the group, there were several reasons. I wanted to be part of a broader movement, something bigger than the Brotherhood. I wanted to continue working [politically] but not necessarily by belonging to one party or a single organization.”
His first experience with anti-torture activism was in 2008, when an Egyptian citizen was tortured by burning in the city Shoha in the district of Mansoura District. He became interested in following that torture case and to try to do something about it. Also in 2008, he got arrested while taking photos during the local elections. In 2010, with a good degree of social media cyberactivist training under his belt, AbdelRahman served in a team of admins for the ElBaradei Facebook page. In June 2010 the Khaled Said incident took place and the rest is history.
In this exclusive interview for Jadaliyya, AbdelRahman talks about what it means to be a youth leader in the age of social media, the pros and cons of anonymity, where he turns for new ideas, and the struggles involved in building a new Egypt.
Meet AbdelRahman Mansour, Co-Admin of `We Are All Khaled Said` Page from Jadaliyya on Vimeo.
Interview by Linda Herrera and filmed by Mark Lotfy