Tahrir Square protester draws similarities, critiques Occupy Wall Street movement

The World

Story from PRI’s The World. Listen above to the full audio report.

In many ways, the Occupy Wall Street encampment that’s entered a second month in New York’s Zuccotti Park is beginning to resemble Tahrir Square.

There’s a kitchen here and a library. There’s a charging station, a medical tent and even a tower streaming free Wi-Fi. There’s also a fast-food restaurant that lets protesters use the bathroom; in Tahrir, it was KFC. On Wall Street, it’s the McDonald’s across the street.

Of course there’s the movement itself. Just like in Egypt, many here wrote off the protesters at first, but they’ve remained, and their numbers are growing.

Still, there is one glaring difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Revolution of Tahrir Square, according to Ibrahim Abdullah.

“There was a clear goal: Al-shab yurid Isghat il nitham. ‘The people want to topple the regime’ – it was very, very clear what we wanted,” Abdullah said.

He’s an Egyptian-American who works in marketing, and he participated in the Tahrir Square protests. For the past few days, he’s been coming down to the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Abdullah said he understands why people here are frustrated, but he doesn’t really know what they want. He notes that in Egypt the slogan was simple, because the demand was a basic one, but the Occupy Wall Street aims cannot be so easily articulated. He said that’s a problem.

“It’s like ‘we want a more fair tax system.’ This is not a good slogan. You need something that people can chant. You need something for people to rally around.”

Abdullah isn’t ready to join the protest here, but Yemeni-American Maryam Salem is. She was inspired by the ongoing revolution in her parents’ home country to become an organizer of Occupy Chicago. She came to New York to ask for activism tips at the daily general assembly meeting in Zuccotti Park.

“I wanted to go to Yemen so badly to join the revolution, but I obviously couldn’t. It’s too dangerous,” Salem said. “When they started here the first thing I thought is that we would be standing in solidarity with them.”

Salem said her activism here follows in a line from the ongoing revolution in Yemen and the Arab World. She pointed out that while her family members back in Yemen are protesting a corrupt regime, she’s protesting a corrupt economic system.

“It’s unfair that students have to graduate with such huge loans and in debt and then can’t find a job to pay them off.”

There’s another group that’s been a semi-permanent fixture at Occupy Wall Street – the street food vendors.

Like many of the vendors, Khaled hails from Egypt. He said the protest here took him by surprise.

“This is something strange, that something like this could happen in America,” Khaled said. “They saw the Arab world rise up, and they organized this. It’s a beautiful thing.”

In the window of Khaled’s food-truck are the words, “From Tahrir Square Egypt to Liberty Park New York.” He said it’s a message to the protestors here – Egyptians are with you, our heart is with you.

Abdullah, the Egyptian-American who protested at Tahrir Square, said he’s just observing the occupy movement for now. But he does have some advice: come up with a better slogan.

“Make it simple, stupid. Keep it in four words. Get a chant that’s catchy enough,” he said, adding, “You need Egyptian marketers to come and fix this for you.

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PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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