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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs