News / USA

Arab Activists: Little in Common Between Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring

Many Arab activists say comparing the Occupy Wall Street movement in America to the uprisings of the Arab Spring denigrates their cause.

A protester affiliated with the
A protester affiliated with the "Occupy Wall Street" protests stands with a US dollar bill taped over his mouth in Zuccotti Park in New York, October 10, 2011.
Cecily Hilleary

Lately, the mainstream media is making parallel comparisons between the United States’ Occupy Wall Street movement and the ongoing Arab Spring. However, the linking of the two movements has outraged some Arab activists who say their movement was spawned out of decades of oppression from undemocratic leaders.

While social media has played a role in the spontaneous mobilization of both movements across many cities, Arab activists say the stakes in the Arab Spring are greater because they address the denial of fundamental civil and human rights.

Occupy Wall Street did not begin as an organized movement. Rather, it grew out of a call by Adbusters, a Vancouver-based activist network which boasts a mission to “topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we live.”  Last July, citing Egypt’s Tahrir Square and the 15-M youth protests in Spain, Adbusters called for a protest against what it called the “Financial Gomorrah of America.” By this they meant the financial community of Wall Street and the unharnessed control, they say, it exercises over the lives of millions of ordinary people. 

Plan-as-you go movement

In response, Occupy Wall Street began to organize itself as a sort of plan-as-you go movement that gathered momentum and spread to cities across the United States.  

Ed Needham is a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street in New York.  He says the Arab Spring reinforced the idea that sometimes it’s necessary for citizens to take to the streets in order to effect political change.  

“When your normal avenues of redress in whatever type of system you are a part of are no longer open to you or are not there to begin with, there’s a breaking point, a point where people stop and say - we’re just not going to accept the way that things are done anymore,” said Needham.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire after police confiscated fruit and vegetables he sold without a permit at a market in Tunis, Tunisia (file photo)
Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire after police confiscated fruit and vegetables he sold without a permit at a market in Tunis, Tunisia (file photo)

He says that in the case of the Arab Spring, a certain catalyst - the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia- set off the imaginations of people across the region. “I think the metaphor is accurate in describing Occupy Wall Street in the way that this started as a spark and it kind of swept off across the country,” said Needham. 

Others, however, argue against any comparison between the desperation that drove a hungry Tunisian to kill himself and the relatively minor discomforts of the average American during an economic downturn.

Nasser Weddady
Nasser Weddady

Nasser Weddady, blogger activist and Civil Rights Outreach Director at the American Islamic Congress says that while he is sympathetic to American protesters, he does not believe they have a clue about what really went on in the Middle East this year.  

“Occupy Wall Street planners only see the skeleton of the Arab spring movement,” he said.  “They don’t know that it was an evolutionary process, the result of decades of work, trial and error, and eventual breakthroughs. These people went out in the streets out of shared desperation after all other means had been exhausted. And they knew full well that they could die for it.”  

The worst that happens in American streets, says Weddady, is that “protesters get pepper-sprayed.”

Dr. Nervana Mahmoud
Dr. Nervana Mahmoud

Dr. Nervana Mahmoud, a UK physician and blogger, agrees. “With no disrespect to the sense of injustice perceived by many [Americans] against the financial institutions and their corruption,” she said, “comparing their struggle to the Arab Spring denigrates the Arab protesters.”  

Movement inspired by bad economy

The American protest movement, says Mahmoud, is inspired by a bad economy, not the kind of long-term abuses and economic hardships that triggered the Arab Spring.  “I really don’t think the American demonstrators are willing to die for their cause,” she said.  She does admit, however, to a few similarities between the movements:  Both demonstrate “the savvy use of social media” and lack of “coherent plans or solutions.”

Laura Boustani
Laura Boustani

Blogger Laura Boustani is a bit more vocal in her indignation. “Shame on them!” she said.  “These American protesters have no concept of the oppression Arab protesters have gone through - not that I want them to see or experience these things first-hand.  Let’s just keep perspective here!”

Occupy Wall Street’s Needham does concede there is a big difference between the Arab and American movements. What they do share, he says, is a “meta-theme, the theme that, you know, everyone has certain unalienable rights and that, together, we can effect change to ensure those and provide safe-keeping for those.”

In September, October 2011 - a movement similar in purpose to Occupy Wall Street - issued a joint statement with ten Egyptian revolutionaries, among them, blogger and activist Alaa Abd el Fattah. He says that on the surface, the two movements are very different. “In the Arab world, protesters are fighting to achieve democracy. In America, people who live in democracy and enjoy a lot of rights fear that democracy may be failing them.”  

However, in the end, both movement stand for the same rights and freedoms.  We might do better, Fattah says, to focus not so much on our differences, but on our shared commitment to social justice and equality.

ويقول النشطاء العرب "احتلال وول ستريت" احتجاجات واحتجاجات الربيع العربي مختلفة جدا يقول العديد من النشطاء العرب مقارنة "احتلال وول ستريت" الاحتجاجات في أمريكا إلى انتفاضات في البلدان العربية تنتقد الربيع قضيتهم.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs