Occupy now, identify later?

Comparisons between the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are not justified…


An Egyptian flag at Occupy Wall Street, October 24 © NLNY


“What do these people want? Hurry and find out so we can get rid of them!”

This or some manifestation of this sentence has been formulated many times in the past several weeks. Occupy Wall Street is having its desired effect. Up to 70 cities within the US and 900 cities worldwide have taken the lead from their counter-parts downtown in Zuccotti Park.

The tides are changing, and it’s difficult to ascertain what the next step will be.

The Arab Spring is the catalyst. Change was achieved. Two courageous souls in Tunisia and Egypt respectively, within the space of 45 days changed the world. However, I, they, the world, knew what they sought. Civil resistance bringing change, from a regime of brutal dictatorship, corruption, and poverty.

However, although patently obvious for the most part, there has been some debate as to what the OWS movement hopes to achieve.  The media are culpable, as was the case with the Arab Spring, where they were often condescending, with accusations the movement is lacking direction and is the brainchild of a generation of ungrateful and lazy weirdos.

Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labour standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system — and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem.

However, are they ready to confront the reality and how to address it?

OWS began on September 17th, but the message has somewhat disintegrated into a rich versus poor battle.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands across the world who are steadfast on their initial message, but a degree of unrest is filtering through, with examples being the trouble in the Rome and Oakland protests. People have lost all confidence in the system, and in the US with their president, who when confronted with the option chose to settle with, rather than investigate and prosecute, the investment banking industry for housing fraud. It begs the question how influential the 1% is in the US government.

As Obama attempted to grasp the situation, he proposed the ‘Buffett tax’. The result was a crushing defeat by the Republicans, so I believe it to be naïve to think of sweeping change, as Washington already possesses that memo.  Early in the movement, a document was released by the protesters outlining their grievances, which was welcome to some. However, with no definitive direction for the movement after over 40 days, it seems destined to lose steam.

Some have argued that a focus ought to be delayed for as long as possible. This will allow the movement to grow even further and thus will prompt a greater and faster reaction from the powers to be to provide a resolution. Well, there are flaws to this. Firstly, the movement is already growing at a rapid rate. As I’m writing protests are continuing around the world. However, what are these new numbers being attracted to?

The Arab Spring is considered the catalyst for these protests; though, if that is the belief, I do worry about the movement.

The Arab Spring was a force to combat oppression of basic rights of citizens by dictators, a concept repeatedly played out through history. The OWS movement is primarily about redistribution of wealth and the lack of jobs available at this moment, which they believe to be the responsibility of Wall Street. It would be prudent to remember that a job is not an inalienable right. Comparisons between the two are largely unfounded. The Arab Spring had a direction to begin with.

To achieve its own direction, that sense of entitlement from Occupy Wall Street needs to disappear.


Rizwan Qayyum is a student of Law who writes on subjects including international affairs and economic development.