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

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs