Egypt Protests: Wael Ghonim, Google Manager and Activist, Released By Government

Photo: Google Marketing Manager Wael
WATCH Egypt in Crisis: Mubarak Clings to Power

A Google executive believed to be a key person in rallying demonstrations that have nearly toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was released today after nearly two weeks in detention, as signs of normalcy began to emerge in Cairo's streets.

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager at Google, was freed today by the Egyptian government.

"First of all I send my condolences to all the people who were killed. It was a peaceful revolution. We didn't want to do any damage," Ghonim said in an interview with an Egyptian network. "Don't focus your cameras on me. I'm not a hero. The real heroes are the youth who are behind this revolution. By God's will, we're going to clean this country of this rubbish."

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said Ghonim's release is a "huge relief."

"It is a huge relief that Wael Ghonim has been released. We send our best wishes to him and his family," it stated.

The longtime activist, who organized protests through social media, was captured by security forces on Jan. 28. He had been active in coordinating the online presence of Muhammed ElBaradei, a Nobel Laureate who has emerged as a key opposition leader.

In one of his last tweets on Jan. 27, Ghonim expressed his strong passion against the current regime. "Pray for #Egypt. Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die," he wrote.

Google wouldn't comment on whether Ghonim's activities violated company policies, only saying that it doesn't comment on employee's personal beliefs and activities.

Thousands of protesters remain camped out in Tahrir Square, the heart of Egypt's uprising. They say they are not satisfied that opposition leaders who met with government officials Sunday speak for them and many are still demanding the immediate ouster of Mubarak.

President Obama today said Egypt is "making progress" but was mostly tight-lipped about the situation in the turbulent country.

"Obviously Egypt has to negotiate a path and I think they are making progress," Obama told reporters today.

Below the scene of calm, concerns about the country's political and social future remain. The real reason why many may not be leaving Tahrir Square is that they fear retribution from the country's secret police and military intelligence, who they suspect are watching and filming the square.

People fear that if they leave the square, they could be picked-up at home. Ironically, the place that was the most dangerous in the city just a few days ago for protesters may now be the safest.

Dissenters who were taken into custody in recent days have emerged to describe scary details. Al Jazeera English correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was detained for a day, told ABC News that he was bound, blindfolded and threatened. While he was in custody, he heard people being tortured in neighboring rooms.

"People who were sitting next to us who were in the crowd -- not journalists -- they were slapped, they were kicked, they were beaten," Mohyeldin said. "I saw them use a great deal of violence against the people who were there."

New York Times reporter Nick Kulish, who was also detained, told ABC News that he also heard people being tortured in neighboring rooms while he was in jail.

"We spoke to hundreds of people and they all said the same thing, which was you know, that police abuse, violence by the police was one of the things that they were fighting against," Kulish said.

Government officials, including newly elected Vice President Omar Suleiman, met with opposition leaders over the weekend to work out a framework for negotiations. Mubarak's son, Gamal, resigned from the ruling party. And in a clear move to appease protesters, the government announced Monday a 15 percent increase in salaries and pensions today, according to the Associated Press.

Mubarak himself met with his Cabinet today.

Banks and Businesses Reopen in Cairo

Banks and some businesses were open, and coffee shops and restaurants opened their doors for business after a week and a half long protest that brought the city to a standstill. The Central Bank flew in 5 billion Egyptian pounds ($854 million) on military transport planes to banks across the country to ensure banks would have enough cash to start up. The streets were more crowded, with the telltale sounds of honking horns returning to Cairo.

Despite the signs of progress in the square and at the negotiating table, a level of underlying tension remained and everyone acknowledged the mood could sour in an instant.

Opposition leaders, including those of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, say they cannot completely trust the government's motives and proposals that stemmed from Sunday's meeting. Nobel Laureate Muhammed ElBaradei, who returned to the country to take part in the protests, was not invited to the talks and has dismissed them as political theater.

"They're meeting with people who are irrelevant. The real future is in Tahrir Square," said Gameela Ismail, member of the opposition El Ghad party and wife of opposition leader Ayman Nour. "The government is making the same, tired mistakes as in the past."

Thousands of people remain in Tahrir Square, but unlike recent days, the scene there today was almost euphoric.

People brought blankets, food and medical aid for those camped out overnights, and protesters were getting organized, even splitting the square into smoking and non-smoking sections. Vendors returned to the square to sell a wide variety of items -- chips, tea, even socks -- just days after the square turned into a battleground between protesters and pro-government supporters.

The 82-year-old Mubarak has said he won't run for another term in the September elections, but protesters continue to demand his immediate resignation.

Even as the dust is beginning to settle on the street, the concern in the United States, in Europe and in the Arab world, is whether the Egyptian government can implement an appropriate political process that will achieve proper elections.

Obama and his administration are pushing Mubarak hard to implement reforms immediately, though U.S. officials have refused to publicly comment on whether the embattled Egyptian president, who has held on to power for 30 years, should resign.

"Egypt is not going to go back to what it was. The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsive government," Obama said Sunday in a pre-Superbowl interview with Fox News' Bill O' Reilly. "And so, what we've said is you have to start a transition now."

"Part of the message that I think we're seeing all around the world is when you resort to suppression, when you resort to violence, that does not work," he added.

Obama acknowledged that the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political and religious group in Egypt, is well-organized and "there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S."

ABC News' Jim Sciutto, Christiane Amanpour, Terry Moran and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.