It started with activists looking to the Middle East for inspiration, now Occupy Wall Street actually plans to go to the Middle East: On Thursday it approved $29,000 to send 20 observers to Egypt's election two weeks from now. Not all in the movement are happy about the decision, but with the protest encampment's budget swelling into the high six figures, they can certainly afford it. In yet another example of Occupy Wall Street becoming a microcosm of a larger society, it now has a foreign policy debate on its hands.
A lot of details about the Egypt trip still need working out, but the basic plan, according to the proposal that passed the General Assembly on Thursday night, is this: The organizers, at the behest of Egyptian civil society groups, will send 20 activists to Egypt to monitor the Nov. 28 elections. They'll consist of two to four representatives from six of the existing Occupy working groups, including press, movement building, direct action, mediation, and medical. The significance is mostly symbolic, but they say their participation will "work to protect and support the civilian monitoring efforts of Egyptian activists on the ground and constitutes a concrete stand against the use of American weapons against peaceful demonstrators." The $29,000 includes 20 tickets at $1,200 each, $20 per person for daily lodging, and $50 per person for daily food and transportation.
So how effective can the delegation actually be? Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University, talked to Dylan Ratigan producer Megan Roberston, calling the plan a "brilliant move."
“The world monitoring, in Arabic, can also mean”oversight” or “control.” “Monitors” sound like people who are coming in to take over. Now, there’s some sort of nationalist pride that can be set off — Egyptians may see it as, well, we’re teaching the Americans for a change. It can play into that very easily,” says Dr. Brown. “It’s a good political move because its an effective way to have a retort to the nationalist argument against monitoring.”
But the plan doesn't sit well with all in Occupy Wall Street, nor its contributors. On Twitter, a guy who donated to the movement expressed his disapproval: "Did not give to OWS for them to occupy Egypt. 99% who are having it tough occupying their homes will not be happy." Another wrote, over two tweets, "it is the right of the OWS Zucotti to decide what 2 do w/money. But this might make many OWS mvmnts feel disenfranchised bcuz ... this what our govt is doing (spnding $ overseas) when our own citz's r hurting so much financially." Sounds a lot like foreign policy debates right here in the United States.
Last we checked with the movement's budget (way back on Oct. 24), they had about $500,000 in the bank, so they can surely afford it. But one imagines the news of the delegation's approval won't sit well in all quarters. The drummers grumbled pretty loudly after they were denied $5,000 for new equipment, and as divisions within the park grow ever-deeper, such big-money budget decisions promise even further strife. Just like in national politics!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.