One of the main internet organisers of Egypt’s protests has been freed from custody to a tumultuous welcome from crowds of demonstrators.
Wael Ghonim joined a massive gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and was greeted with cheers, whistling and thunderous applause when he declared: “We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime.”
Many in the crowd said they were inspired by Mr Ghonim, a 30-year-old Google marketing manager who was a key figure in the online campaign that sparked the first protest on January 25 to demand the removal of president Hosni Mubarak.
Straight from his release from 12 days of detention, Mr Ghonim gave an emotionally charged television interview where he sobbed over those who have been killed in two weeks of clashes.
He arrived in the square when it was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, a crowd comparable in size to the biggest demonstration so far that drew a quarter of a million people. He spoke softly and briefly to the huge crowd from a stage and began by offering his condolences to the families of those killed.
“I’m not a hero but those who were martyred are the heroes,” he said, breaking into a chant of “Mubarak leave, leave.” When he finished, the crowd erupted in cheering, whistling and deafening applause.
Mr Ghonim has emerged as a rallying point for protesters, who reject a group of traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have met the government amid the most sweeping concessions the regime has made in its three decades in power. About 130,000 people have joined a Facebook group nominating Mr Ghonim as the spokesman of their uprising.
Meanwhile Mr Mubarak’s regime offered more concessions to the protesters in hopes of appeasing them while keeping as firm a grip on power as it possibly can.
Vice president Omar Suleiman, who is managing the crisis, offered to set up committees to propose long-sought constitutional amendments and monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. The amendments will include presidential term limits and relaxing eligibility rules for who can run.
Mr Mubarak has refused the protesters’ central demand to step down, insisting on serving until elections in September.