There have been many comparisons of Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, to the uprisings that began in Tunisia last December and then in Egypt, and then to Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Morocco, Syria and even Saudi Arabia. Tuniisia is to hold its first free elections since the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Sunday. Egypt is to hold its first elections next month. But many activists have been dismayed at the interim government, the military Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which seems unwilling to relinquish its power.
In March, Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad was sentenced by a military tribunal in March to three years in jail after publishing a blog post entitled “The people and the army were never one hand.” This title “deliberately inverted a popular pro-military chant” and incensed the generals who continue to rule Egypt. Sanad was found guilty of “insulting the Egyptian army.” He is now on the 57th day of a hunger strike and has said he is boycotting the latest court case against him, which was held on Tuesday and which his family and lawyers refused to attend; his younger brother, Mark, called the military retrial a “soap opera.” Said Sanad in a statement:
“If the militarists thought that I would be tired of my hunger strike and accept imprisonment and enslavement, then they are dreamers. It’s more honourable [for] me to die committing suicide than [it is] allowing a bunch of Nazi criminals to feel that they succeeded in restricting my freedom. I am bigger than that farce.”
Amnesty International has declared Sanad, who is believed to be in critical condition, a prisoner of conscience and his case has sparked an opposition movement to military trials for civilians. Up to 12,000 Egyptians have been tried under such tribunals since the fall of Hosni Mubarak and despite promises to end them expressed by Egypt’s de facto leader, Field Marshal Tantawi.
This week also saw the detainment of a popular Saudi video blogger, Feras Bugnah. He and his colleagues Hosam al-Deraiwish and Khaled al-Rasheed were arrested on Sunday out of concerns about their online show, “We Are Being Cheated“; at least two of them are being held in a prison in the Saudi capital of Riyadh:
The report was the fourth episode of the show posted on YouTube in the past two months. Each of the slickly produced short videos features Mr. Bugnah on camera, narrating the reports and interacting with his interview subjects in a lighthearted but impassioned style not unlike that of the American filmmaker Michael Moore. Mr. Bugnah’s look at poverty in Riyadh blends comedy with activism right from the start, as he first asks well-off residents of the city if they are doing well. When they reply that they are, he then cuts to impoverished children who say, no, they are not doing well.
Here is the episode, with English subtitles by a Saudi living in Manchester, England.
While a number of women have sought to oppose Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, there has been no uprising in the country as in Egypt and other Arab countries. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia both continue to suppress the voices of civilians calling for change and saying what life in their countries is really like.
In just a few months, it will be a year since December 17, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit seller in the city of Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his produce and his humiliating treatment by a municipal official and her aides. Will the calls for democratic reforms that spurred the Arab Spring endure? What can the protesters of Occupy Wall Street learn from their example?
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Photo of protesters marching in Cairo and chanting against military rule taken in September 2011 by Gigi Ibrahim