Where Arab Spring and Occupy meet

One year after the Arab Spring began, activists in Cairo and New York discuss how the Middle East protests inspired the Occupy movement, and where they go from here.

Kai Ryssdal: Part of what we've been looking at this week, as we mark a year since the protests in Tahrir Square, is how closely -- if at all -- the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were connected.

Ahmed Naguib is an Egyptian pro-democracy activist. He was in Tahrir Square again today. Tammy Shapiro is an Occupy Wall Street organizer in New York. We got them together to explore that common ground and where both movements go from here. Good to have you both with us.

Tammy Shapiro: Great to be here.

Ahmed Naguib: Thank you.

Ryssdal: Ahmed, let me ask you first of all, when you looked at Occupy Wall Street and when you saw that happening last fall in New York and then across this country what were you thinking?

Naguib: I was thinking, good for them, because I believe our generation is all about change. And I don't see what's happening in the States, nor Greece, nor Spain or other countries in Europe, and even India and this Arab Spring as detached. In essence we're all after the same thing. You know, those bankers and politicians that failed us and have increased the margins of poverty all around the world -- we need to fix that system.

Ryssdal: Tammy Shapiro, that line he just said, "we're all after the same thing." You agree with that?

Shapiro: I think we are. I think our struggles look different -- they have different flavors to them -- but at the end of the day we're looking for a system that works for everyone. I think an important difference is the violence that we face. You know, I think that people in Egypt are really putting their lives on the line. And while some folks in Occupy are putting their future in the line or, you know, dropping everything and we don't know where things are going to go -- we're not facing the same kind of violence and repression.

Ryssdal: Ahmed this is a little bit sideways, but it occurs to me that the Occupy Movement really hit on something. They hit on a thing that resonated and they figured out a way to market it, right? They've got the slogan of "we are the 99 percent" and they've got this idea of occupy. Is there the same thing in the Arab Spring and happening across that part of the world.

Naguib: Well, actually I see that the Occupy movement has much bigger challenges. Because you have a nation that's so huge and so decentralized in many ways, it's very hard to get the nation behind you on such a cause. But I think they're doing a pretty good for the time being. And people are starting to identify more and more. I think it's about targeting your people that you want to mobilize and the techniques and tools you need to use for that.

Ryssdal: So Tammy, what happens now? I mean, that challenge he speaks of is not insignificant.

Shapiro: Yeah, I think in this country there's a lot of people who are unemployed, there's a lot of people who are losing their homes. But there are also people who are doing OK And in order to really build a mass-based movement, there are certainly people who say, "The worse things get, the larger our movement will grow. And, you know, small reforms that pacify people aren't actually helping us in the long run." There are people who think that. And there are people who think that the worse things get, the worse things get.

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Shapiro: And we won't be able build a movement and people won't have the freedom to fight. And I'm not exactly sure where I fall on that, but I do think that there is a sense that a lot of people need to get to desperation before they're willing to stand up and put everything on the line.

Ryssdal: Ahmed, the people Tammy was talking about -- the people who are doing OK in this country -- are you finding in Egypt and across the Middle East that the people that are doing OK are interested in what the democracy activists are saying?

Naguib: I think what differentiates us in the East from the West is that we're still on the lower part of the food chain when it comes to democracy, freedom and civil rights. So we have more to fight for. To engage those 1 percent and you tell them: "Take bureaucracy and take away corruption. We could do way much better." A lot of people ask me in Tahrir Square, "I mean, you look like from a decent and good background, great education, you have a great job. What made you go down on the street?" And I respond to them exactly like this. I tell them that the day, on 28th of the Friday of Anger, I took both my little kids -- seven and five -- into my arms and kissed them. And I wanted them to hear -- maybe -- my last words to them, which is "I'm going out to get you a better tomorrow."

Ryssdal: Ahmed Naguib in Cairo, who's a pro-democracy activist there, and Tammy Shapiro in New York City with the Occupy Movement. Thank you both.

Naguib: Thank you, that was lovely.

Shapiro: Thank you.


You can listen to the extended version of the interview here.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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