In news of the violence that has broken out in Cairo in recent days, a report has circulated that may indicate that the Egyptian authorities are paying attention to how some police in the United States have responded to the Occupy Wall Street protests.
According to the accounts, an Egyptian state television anchor cited the “firm stance” taken by United States law enforcement to “secure the state” as a justification for the Egyptian crackdown. This report came from Twitter, posted by Sultan Al Qassemi, a journalist and important voice in the Arab Spring uprisings. Whether or not this can be independently confirmed, it points to a troubling double standard between the United States’s internal actions and foreign policy.
Occupy Wall Street first gained widespread attention in September, when a supervising officer in the New York Police Department used pepper spray on an unarmed and nonthreatening group of four women who had been standing together. Before that, the protests had been a curiosity; after it came out that N.Y.P.D.’s “white shirts” from higher ranks were leading an aggressive response to keep “sidewalks clear and crowds moving along,” the protest rapidly grew into a movement. Protesters greeted the news that the officer who had used pepper spray was “punished” by having 10 vacation days docked with anger.
On Friday, campus police at the University of California Davis used pepper spray on nine seated protesters who had defied orders to move. Photographs of this unprovoked attack have become a new rallying cry of the movement. In one particularly resonant image, some wit digitally placed the campus officer into John Trumbull’s famous painting of the signing of Declaration of Independence, blasting America’s founding document with an orange-colored haze.
It must be conceded that a few angry cops and misguided public officials do not add up to an overturning of democracy. Nor should the police’s removal of the library Occupy Wall Street put together at Zuccotti Park be considered on a par with book-burning in Hitler’s Germany. However, violent responses to the peaceful encampments reinforce the movement’s messages about inequality and the use of official force to resist meaningful change.
If the report out of Egypt is accurate, the world is indeed watching.