EGYPT-UNITED STATES

Egyptian activists lend their ‘savoir faire’ to Wall Street protesters

 Shouting “Down with the government!” in Arabic, a group of protesters marched down a street, waving picket signs and flags. One might think they were watching a scene lifted directly from an Arab Spring demonstration, but guess again – it’s an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.

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An Egyptian activist writes a message in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement on an Egyptian flag. Photo published on Flickr by NLNY.

 

Shouting “Down with the government!” in Arabic, a group of protesters marched down a street, waving picket signs and flags. One might think they were watching a scene lifted directly from an Arab Spring demonstration, but guess again – it’s an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.

 

It all began a few weeks ago when a US-based non-profit organisation, the Egyptian Association for Change, organised a meeting between members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and activists from Cairo. The latter group had been among the thousands of protesters who took over the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square in the weeks before former president Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in February.

 

The collaboration is part of a larger show of support from activists across the Arab world for the West’s growing social movements, including Europe’s indignados.

 

 

“The Americans’ situation is very different than that of Egyptians...they're not united in their demands”

Zaid Saleh, 32, is Egyptian-American. He has lived in both countries and is one of the founders of the Egyptian Association for Change.

 

The Egyptian Association for Change was created by Egyptian-Americans to incite Egyptians to mobilise for their country of origin and feel connected to what’s going on there. We estimate that there are somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million Americans of Egyptian origin (300,000 Egyptian citizens are currently living in the United States, but the official number of second- or third-generation Egyptians is unknown.)

 

To reinforce the ties between Egyptians here and our homeland, two weeks ago we invited activists from the Egyptian revolution to New York. We went down with them to the Occupy Wall Street camp on October 23. Two Egyptian activists, Ahmed Maher and Asmaa Mahfouz, shared their experience in Cairo with the American protesters.

 

Asmaa and Ahmed advised Wall Street protesters to remain very pragmatic in their approach and to assemble the widest possible spectrum of people. Talking only politics is elitist -- not everyone cares or understands. On the other hand, the high cost of living, unemployment – that speaks to everybody. The revolution in Egypt also started with social demands.

 

The Americans then asked the Tahrir Square veterans what slogans they had shouted. We chanted and translated the most popular one for them: “The People want the fall of the government!” and they had a bit of fun chanting it in Arabic. But it was just for fun. Americans don’t really intend to overthrow their regime. Their situation is different than that of Egyptians: they’re not united in their demands, as opposed to Egyptians who all rejected Mubarak and his system. That’s also why the ‘indignados’ of Wall Street are having more difficulty drawing a larger following. Furthermore, the US is a democratic country – there are fair elections. Defining change and democracy is easier if you’re in a dictatorship.”

 

This article was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.