How wrong is Time's most influential people list?
Really wrong. Time has a strange definition of 'influence.'
Time's List of the 100 "most influential people in the world" came out last week. I only noticed it today because I came across a news item about Egyptian Internet activist Wael Ghonim taking a sabbatical from his job at Google to, according to his Twitter account, "start a technology focused NGO to help fight poverty & foster education in Egypt."Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Mr. Ghonim was the little known Google marketing executive who, with friends, started the "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook page to commemorate the murder of a middle-class Egyptian man by the police. That site evolved into the online rallying point for the Egyptian revolution. He was arrested in the early days of the Egyptian uprising and upon his release gave an emotional television interview that briefly made him the revolution's media star.
Since, he's returned to his job at Google and been active on the Internet. With the future of Egypt now in the hands of the political activists, military officers, and politicians jockeying for power and influence, he's largely receded into the background -- something confirmed by his decision to start what appears to be an apolitical, mom and apple pie kind of charitable organization, rather than engage with the rough and tumble of Egyptian politics.
Yet there he is as one of the 100 most influential people on a planet with 6.7 billion residents. And he's the only Egyptian on the list, implying he's currently the most "influential" person in his homeland. More influential than Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi, the man currently in charge of the military junta running Egypt and who, a recent Pew poll found, has a 90 percent favorable rating among the Egyptian people? More influential than Mohamed Badei, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite some internal problems of its own, remains one of the best organized political forces in Egyptian society and is likely to make a strong showing in the next parliamentary election?
None of this is to criticize or diminish the role Ghonim played as a galvanizing figure in the Egyptian revolution, or any good work he may accomplish in the future. But he wasn't so much influential as a symbol of a moment. He was one of a number of figures involved with the Khaled Said Facebook page, and a key impetus for Egypt's revolution was Tunisia's uprising.