Julian Assange: The man who came to dinner, the man who saved Egypt
The WikiLeaks boss appears to take credit for the Egyptian revolution in a fundraising ad. He also reflects on his time in Miss Egypt's home.
(Page 2 of 3)
To many of these activists, ascribing root credit to Assange or WikiLeaks in their revolutions is offensive. The claim first emerged after the Tunisian revolution ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off the so-called Arab Spring in January.Skip to next paragraph
The Arab League observer mission in Syria is likely to fail
Egypt's military rulers crack down on democracy groups
Iran's threats over Strait of Hormuz? Understandable, but not easy
Eastern Libya poll indicates political Islam will closely follow democracy
Iraq's Maliki threatens, Sunnis grumble, and Baghdad goes boom
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
I didn't think it made much sense then, notwithstanding the assertions of Internet utopians. Monitor correspondent Kristen Chick spent weeks covering the Tunisian revolution, and she told me then that not a single person had mentioned WikiLeaks to her.
Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy told me the other day that he's spoken to some Tunisian activists who think the release of US diplomatic cables that showed the US was as aware of the Ben Ali family's corruption as everyone else emboldened protesters. But he emphasized "some." (I've not been to Tunisia myself).
But Egypt was my patch for five years. While I don't claim any vast expertise, I found Assange's expansion on WikiLeaks role in the Arab uprisings over the weekend, particularly in the case of Egypt, stunningly obtuse. He spoke at the Frontline Club in London on Saturday, in a talk moderated by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman between Assange and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Asked what role Wikileaks had played, Assange said that "it's difficult to disentangle" and then quickly added "I lived in Egypt during 2007, so I’m familiar with the Mubarak regime and the tensions within the Egyptian environment."
He went on: "Actually, I was staying at that time... in Miss Egypt’s house, and Miss Egypt’s house – other than having paintings of Miss Egypt all throughout – was clustered right between the US Embassy and the British High Commission, with a van outside filled with 24 soldiers in front of my front door, so for the sort of work we were doing, this seemed to be the sort of ultimate cover if you’d like, right nested amongst this."
How long was he in Egypt? Erin Snider, an acquaintance currently finishing up her PhD on the political economy of Egypt, told me that Assange had stayed at the flat she shared with three other people (an early version of this post misspelled Erin's name). None of them were Miss Egypt, though the landlady was the mother of Miss Egypt, 2000. Erin recalls one photograph of the Egyptian beauty queen in the flat, not many.
Assange was invited by Erin's roommate, who met him at a conference in Kenya that year. But he and his entourage of five turned out to be such terrible house guests that they were kicked out after a week. Erin, who says she never saw any evidence that they were linking up with Egyptian activists, thinks they left Egypt soon after. As a reporter in Cairo at the time, I certainly never heard anything about Assange.