How Occupy Influenced Egypt's Arab Spring (and Vice Versa)
It's no mystery that the uprising that started in downtown Manhattan's Zuccotti Square almost exactly three months ago was inspired in part by the revolution that began in Tahrir Square that began on January 25th.
On Friday morning, the Egyptian protesters who've found themselves facing off against security forces in the most violent confrontation since the overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak as part of a three-week long action called "Occupy Cabinet." You can pretty easily guess who inspired that name. "[Egyptians] see these pictures of a U.C. Davis police man pepper-spraying students in the face," said Matthew Cappiello, who identifies himself as a co-organizer of a delegation from Occupy Wall Street that's planning a trip to Egypt hopefully in time for the one-year anniversary of the January 25 uprising. He told The Atlantic Wire, "That resonates a lot with Egyptians who just a few months ago were having pepper-spray poured down their throats."
It's no mystery that the uprising that started in downtown Manhattan's Zuccotti Square almost exactly three months ago was inspired in part by the revolution that began in Tahrir Square on January 25. The two groups have been in touch since then, mostly to share information about what's happening on the ground; how American and Egyptian foreign relations are evolving and occasionally to organize actions together. Occupy organizers and those behind the Arab Spring have not only been taking queues from each other and borrowing brands, they've actually been collaborating. Cappiello told us on Friday afternoon that communication between two groups has been increasing. The groups discuss everything from the shared issues of economic and social injustice that are underpinning each of their respective movements but also the specific experiences they've shared.
The non-lethal weapons issue is a big deal for both the American and Egyptian protesters. It's not just that they both know how much pepper-spray burns or tear gas hurts, but also because there's a commercial relationship between U.S. military contractors and the security forces that are cracking down on the Occupy Cabinet protests in Cairo. "Recently there's been a lot of joint protests about the us supplying tear gas to the Egyptian Army," Cappiello explained. Coverage of this issue has ramped up in recent weeks as more information about the American-made tear gas canisters that have been showing up on the streets in Egypt. Tear gas canisters also showed up on the streets of Oakland during the violent Occupy protests in early November. The New York Times explains the origins:
Photographs of spent tear gas canisters said to have been fired by Egyptian security forces during confrontations over the weekend and on Monday appeared to indicate that the gas used by the military-backed government was the same as that used to unsuccessfully defend Hosni Mubarak in his waning days as president. The canisters in both instances bore the markings ofCombined Tactical Systems, a Pennsylvania-based company also known as Combined Systems. According to Salon, Combined Systems would neither confirm nor deny that it had supplied tear gas to the Egyptian government.
Following the news a group of Egyptian protesters actually reached out to American Occupiers and asked them to protest outside of Combined Systems. The Americans agreed. (See a video of the action below.) What's even more interesting is that the Egyptians had been fairly hostile to the Occupiers before that, Cappiello told us. "It definitely boosted things a lot," he said. "We were worried at first when all this controversy started happening about Occupy Wall Street traveling for the elections" -- that trip has been postponed but not cancelled -- "Egyptian activitists … understand the value that international communication can bring."