Egyptian Protesters March in Support of Occupy Oakland
Protesters in Egypt marched from Tahrir Square to the US Embassy to protest recent police violence in Oakland, CA where riot police descended on the Occupy Oakland encampment earlier this week, arresting many of the protesters and using tear gas and flash bombs to disperse crowds.
Holding signs proclaiming the solidarity of the various protest movements springing up around the globe, Egyptian activists proclaimed that the goals of Occupy Wall Street and the freedom movement in Egypt were one and the same – at least in spirit.
I’ve been a supporter of both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, though my support comes with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’m wary of populist uprisings to be honest. In the Middle East dictators have fallen, but it’s just as likely that new dictators will rise up. Democracy isn’t anathema to the rise of despots. Indeed, the problem with democracy is that it can lead to the tyranny of the majority. In sectarian countries in the Middle East, this can be detrimental. Throw religious extremism into the mix…and you could have trouble.
My point isn’t that it’s wrong or bad for these young people to voice their anger with the horrible status quo. It’s just that we should curb our optimism a bit and see what happens. Whatever new regimes rise up across northern Africa and the Mid-East, we should work to usher them into the global economy as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Free and peaceful commerce between nations can lead to the emergence of more open societies abroad.
Similarly, Occupy Wall Street is protesting a very real problem in our society: economic inequality driven not so much by markets but by crony capitalism and a financial sector that sits on the other side of the revolving door from Washington D.C. Besides that, OWS protesters are justifiably angry about our absurd healthcare system and by the state of perpetual conflict we find ourselves in overseas and the implications of this never-ending war on terror at home in the form of the invasive TSA, the Patriot Act, and myriad other issues. None of these issues have simple answers and all of them have plenty of room for debate, but the anger we ought to feel over them is real enough. Liberals, libertarians, conservatives – we should all be upset by cronyism, especially the kind that leads to massive recessions.
Even if I do find the “Ban corporate greed!” and “Down with capitalism!” sentiments a bit silly, I think the anger expressed at OWS is good (similarly I find many of the Tea Partier’s sentiments a bit silly, but their anger – largely driven by similar things – is also good.) But populism is always a bit like grabbing a tiger by its tail. At least in America the stakes are not quite so high as in the Middle East.