Good Reads: Back to Tahrir Square, Syrians get violent, and Occupy Wall Street

It's the autumn of discontent, with Egyptian activists worried about a military comeback, Syrian protesters taking up arms, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US and Europe.

Majed Jaber/Reuters
A woman holds a Syria flag as Jordanians and Syrians living in Jordan shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad during a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Amman on Monday.

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It’s incredible to think that at this time last year, the leaders of the North African states of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were familiar faces that had been around for decades – Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Muammar Qaddafi, and Hosni Mubarak.

Today, all three are gone, courtesy of a few citizens who decided that enough was enough.

The Washington Post’s Leila Fadel visits one of these citizens in Cairo, a 27-year-old activist named Rasha Azb, who has taken to the streets again to protest against the Egyptian military’s continued control of the country. She worries that with elections just around the corner, Egyptians could lose all the freedoms they won during the past year by relaxing now, giving the same old establishment politicians a chance to take back the levers of control.

But activists like Ms. Azb are finding the mood in Egypt has turned against them, Ms. Fadel writes:

… in the months since the revolution, Azb’s struggle has gone back to what it was before the uprising: a lonely fight that few in Egypt are inclined to join against a seemingly implacable foe. The youths who once were hailed for leading the revolution as national saviors and true voices of the Arab street are now seen by many as a nuisance, clogging traffic and spoiling the economy. Even Azb’s brother tells her she’s wasting her time.

Syrians get violent?

The protesters of Tunisia and Egypt inspired like-minded youths around the world, from Damascus to Wall Street. But in Damascus, those who joined what was initially a clever nonviolent democratic reform movement are beginning to lose hope.

In New York, Russia and China yesterday voted against a European proposed set of sanctions against the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Now, distressed activists in Syria are starting to doubt that their present methods of nonviolent defiance are going to succeed against a regime that has no qualms against unleashing the full brutal force of its military against unarmed civilians.

So Syrians like Abu Sultan are arming themselves and preparing for all out civil war.

Interviewed by Hussein al-Haqq in the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Sultan said, "The West isn't helping us so we have no choice. What would you do?”

As the Telegraph notes, most Syrian protesters remain committed to nonviolence, knowing that, as Gene Sharp, the father of the modern nonviolence movement, says, taking up arms is simply playing a game that repressive states are likely to win. But an influx of Army defectors into the movement and a growing frustration among a minority of protesters with the lack of tangible results are giving Syria’s democracy movement a more violent edge. Most worrisome is a string of assassinations over the past 10 days against those seen by protester groups as informants for the regime.

Meanwhile, in the West...

In the West, discontent is rising as well – symbolized most recently by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. And while protesters face nothing like the helicopter gunships unleashed by dictators like Mr. Qaddafi and Mr. Assad, protesters say they relate to the Arab Spring movements in that their governments are paying heed to the wishes of a privileged few rather than the greater good.

Here in the US, protesters are posting up a storm on Facebook, camping out in public parks, and clogging up streets around financial and government buildings, demanding that the leaders of banks and financial institutions be brought to account for the 2007 economic crisis that continues to linger. They are demanding, too, that political parties stop catering to the interests of large corporations.

Occupy Wall Street has been derided for a supposed lack of focus, but, as the Guardian notes, the movement is spreading. Protests are now planned in 147 US cities, and there are sister protests planned in Britain, Germany, and Sweden.

If there was some slight hint that the global economy would turn around, that companies would start hiring again, and that X-boxes would once again find their place under the National Christmas Tree, then perhaps these protests would sputter out. But Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, gave no such hope this week, as was reported in a fine piece by the Monitor’s Gail Russell Chaddock.

In fact, Mr. Bernanke says, the country’s economy is “close to faltering,” and part of the blame rests on the shoulders of Congress and its “brinkmanship” style of negotiations over the US federal budget last summer.

“Unfortunately the brinksmanship of the summer and at least perception in the minds of some investors that the United States might actively consider defaulting on its debt, and moreover, the possibility that this might be recurring periodically, I think was a negative for the financial markets,” he said.

“It was the reason that the downgrade occurred, that the S&P cited the political process more than the amount of debt outstanding. It's no way to run a railroad, if I may say so,” he added.

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