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Capital Protest

As a reporter who has covered the Arab Spring since the day a desperate young Tunisian struck the match that killed him, I have been watching the American protests with interest.  In fact, you can read my latest analysis on VOA News’ website. I come from a generation which regularly exercised its right to picket and petition.   For a while, I was worried that today’s generation was too engrossed in its iPods and video games to notice America’s slowing economy and growing social problems.

So it’s reassuring to see that American youth still care.   And it’s nice to be reminded that democracy doesn’t simply tolerate dissent, it goes out of its way to accommodate it.  Imagine, just last night, police agreed to extend the deadline for protesters to occupy Freedom Plaza here in Washington, D.C.  That means protesters are free to camp out along Pennsylvania Avenue as long as they please, through Thanksgiving, Christmas and Groundhog Day.

I can’t help but wonder how events might have played out had Manama police afforded Bahraini youth the same courtesy.

At the same time, I can see why some might be a little embarrassed by the Occupy Wall Street (OSW) protests.   Sometimes, these American activists look more like vacationers than rebels with a cause.   Consider some of the  tweets that are circulating:

 

The bestest part for both of us of #occupywallstreet was the drum circle, holy smokes it was so ROCKING!! We were hypnotized by the music!

#OccupyWallStreet is the best jam session in town. Come and dance

 If you havent gotten out to #occupywallstreet yet , i highly recommend it . beautiful people there with good hearts . free food . a library

 

There was a little excitement over the weekend here in Washington, when protesters stormed the Air and Space Museum and got pepper-sprayed for their efforts.  Apparently, they had decided they did not care for an exhibit on unmanned aircraft.

Things got a little more unpleasant Monday night in Boston.  When protesters refused to move back to their original camp site, police and activists got into a shoving match, in which some police officers are reported to have used excessive force.   OSW reacted by calling it a case of police brutality:  “If this was war [sic], the BPD [Boston Police Department] could be found guilty of war crimes.”

Meanwhile, 5,000 miles away from the nation’s capital, Syrian shabiha were gunning down demonstrators in Idlib and two dozen grieving Christian and Muslim Cairenes were preparing to bury their dead.

Americans are protesting economic problems triggered by the collapse of the U.S. housing market a few years ago.  Since then, we’ve all had to cut back.  For most of the middle class, that means carrying lunches to work, taking public transportation and doing without dinners at restaurants.  Other Americans – about fourteen million – are out of work entirely.   This situation is worrying, yes, but most of us Americans trust that, in the end, it will correct itself.

On the other hand, millions of Tunisians, Egyptians and other Arabs have been fighting decades of abuses which often amount to nothing less than crimes against humanity.   Demonstrators in Syria are not merely handcuffed, read their rights and released on bail like their Boston counterparts.  They are stolen away in the dead of night, tortured in unspeakable ways and, in many cases, never seen again.

This is not to mock American protesters or the causes they champion.  I guess it boils down to what one  Lebanese blogger I interviewed told me:  “Let’s just keep some perspective here.”

 

 

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.

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