The List

From Tahrir Square to Wall Street

What can "Occupy Wall Street" learn from the activists who took down Hosni Mubarak?

After three weeks of camping out in Lower Manhattan, and with protests now breaking out in other cities throughout the United States, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has proved it has staying power. It also has an image problem. The movement has been widely portrayed in the U.S. media as a disorganized group of dreadlocked, privileged college students without coherent goals.

But as we've seen throughout the Middle East this year, a movement of fed-up, tech-savvy young people can quickly snowball into something more significant. So I spoke with a veteran of the Tahrir Square uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to get his thoughts on what lessons Occupy Wall Street can take from the Arab Spring.

1. You don't need a leader, but you do need a platform.

Like Occupy Wall Street, there was no one leader of the anti-Mubarak movement. Mosa'ab Elshamy, a medical student and freelance photographer whose Twitter feed became a must-read for those trying to follow the demonstrations, says that a lack of central authority isn't an issue as long as everyone knows what they're there for.

"There was strong agreement because there was a common target, which was toppling Hosni Mubarak," Elshamy says. "Nobody thought about whether we are going to have parliamentary elections after, or how we were going to write a constitution or all these fiascoes we have now. These divisions emerged after toppling. But during those days, no one brought these issues up."

Elshamy recalls that the protesters' list of demands was written on a building-size banner so that "everyone inside and outside the square knew what we wanted."

Watching the protests in New York, Elshamy says it "took me a while to figure out what their demands are." Although there have been a number of proposed manifestos circling online and a declaration of grievances, addressing topics ranging from tax and trade policy to the funding of elections to animal cruelty, it's still difficult to pinpoint what exactly would constitute a victory for the activists camped out in Zuccotti Park.

Elshamy says the agreed-upon demands need not address the grievances of everyone present, but that in Egypt it was critical that there were "three or four or five that everyone agreed upon."

2. Widen the base.

On the other hand, the goals of the movement also need to be broad enough to attract as wide a base of support as possible, Elshamy says. In Egypt, this meant bringing together groups that would normally be on opposite sides of the country's cultural divide. "The leftists and the Muslim Brotherhood both equally hated Hosni Mubarak and believed that toppling him was the place to start," he says.

Elshamy acknowledges that finding common ground might be more difficult for Occupy Wall Street, whose aims are not to bring down a widely despised dictator, but bring about reform reform of the political and financial system. He says the two movements, however, share the challenge of proving that their struggle "is not exclusive to the media class."

"You have to appeal to the poor, the middle class, the student, the trade unions, even the police officer who might arrest you later," he says. "That's why it's so important to keep the message simple."

A coalition of labor unions joined the occupiers for a march on Oct. 5, so perhaps the message is beginning to spread.

3. Keep it friendly with the police.

Relations between the New York Police Department and the protesters have been highly contentious so far. Over 700 demonstrators were arrested after attempting to march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct 2. Protesters have accused the police of using excessive force and have launched name-and-shame campaigns against individual officers accused of abuses.

Although the relationship between demonstrators and police is inherently tense, Elshamy says a bit of kindness can go a long way. "Even when we were being attacked by water hoses, we cheered for the police. This was both ridiculing the attack and making the environment less hostile," he recalls. "We would wave to the police, talk to them, tell them we're not how the media is portraying us."

All the same, Elshamy dismissed the idea of "some sort of monk revolution where you get attacked and you never reply. In my experience, this never works anymore." He remembers that "when it got really brutal, there was no way the revolution was going to carry on but to self-defend," at which point demonstrators started responding to attacks by pro-regime forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

As for what's going on in New York, Elshamy says "getting confrontational right now would just generate more negative media attention against them. I would advise them to keep it peaceful."

4. Don't blame the media; change the narrative.

Occupy Wall Street's supporters have continually criticized both the dearth of media coverage of their movement and its dismissive tone. "The media has begun dismissing the protesters, calling them delusional, childish hippies," Elshamy says. "This is actually very similar to here in Egypt when the media portrayed protesters as thugs or foreign agents who were getting paid and had other agendas." At one point, Egypt's state media even suggested that the demonstrators were being brought out to the square by the promise of free buckets of KFC.

The crowd took the charges in stride. Vendors began selling T-shirts reading "I am a thug" and fake pamphlets featuring "foreign agendas." The square's makeshift medical tent was renamed "KFC hospital."

Most importantly, Elshamy says, is to be as "neutral and friendly as possible with whatever journalist, no matter where he is from."

"There was a stage in Tahrir, about two months ago [during a sit-in against Egypt's post-Mubarak transitional military government], when protesters started getting really overprotective and would push media away from the square -- especially channels they didn't agree with. Gradually they lost steam and the sit-in in August was dispersed because people were really fed up with it."

5. Keep the energy up.

Revolution is hard work. It took nearly a month of continuous occupation of central Cairo in the dead of winter to force the downfall of Mubarak and many protesters are still demonstrating against the country's military government. "Whenever there was a possibility that the movement was slowing down, protesters would come up with new ideas to inject more blood into the movement," Elshamy recalls. These included public marches every Friday and sometimes midweek, during which the hard-core demonstrators in Tahrir would be joined by people throughout the city, as well as day-to-day diversions like "concerts, competitions, discussions, speeches from major media figures."

The Wall Street occupiers have had visits from everyone from Roseanne Barr to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, though a rumored concert from Radiohead didn't pan out. In a movement without a central leader, Elshamy says it's particularly important for the most active participants to keep everyone else motivated.

Most importantly, he says, "You have to celebrate every gain you make. The fact that the media started paying attention to them is a very positive thing. They have to cherish all of these gains, no matter how small."


The List

The Price of Failure

How much has the collapse of Somalia cost the world? $55 billion -- and here's where it went.

On the morning of Oct. 4, a truck bomb exploded on a well-trafficked street outside the Ministry of Education in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing upwards of 80 bystanders, many of them university students. The attack brought an end to the relative lull that had held in Mogadishu since August, when fighters for the al-Shabab guerrilla forces withdrew from the city, and offered a stark reminder that the world's most notorious failed state remains just that.

Somalia's ruin can't simply be chalked up as a case of Western neglect. For decades, the United States and international organizations have poured money into Somalia despite its relative geopolitical insignificance -- first as a Cold War bulwark, then as a humanitarian emergency, and now as an effort to contain crime and terrorism. Just how much has Somalia cost us? To figure out the true financial burden that Somalia's conflict has imposed on the world since 1991, we used a variety of official and unofficial sources, combined with some educated guesswork, and came up with an estimate of $55 billion. That figure includes everything from aid supplied by the Red Cross and defaulted World Bank loans to naval patrols off Somalia's piracy-plagued coast and CIA-run detention facilities within the country.

$55 billion may be modest in comparison with the cost of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which together are likely to end up costing the United States more than $1 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office -- but what's remarkable is how little we have to show for it. For all the treasure expended there, Somalia is no closer to stability than it has been at earlier points in its two-plus decades of chaos. The country is currently experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in two decades, with more than three-quarters of a million people at grave risk of starvation, and remains riven by civil conflict, piracy, and extremism.

The world's approach to Somalia has long been trapped in an unhappy middle: It has been insufficiently robust and well-designed to resolve the country's conflicts but far too heavy-handed and frequent to allow the country to resolve its own problems. An entire generation of Somalis now views the "state," whether it is the Transitional Federal Government or al-Shabab, as a largely predatory institution to be feared, not as a source of stability. Perhaps more than anything, the spending on Somalia demonstrates how the world -- and Washington in particular -- keeps groping for quick tactical fixes while failing to embrace the sensible diplomacy and the kinds of patient engagement that might help Somalia achieve peace.

Humanitarian and development aid: $13 billion

Somalia's tilt into chaos has been first and foremost an enormous human tragedy. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and relief agency data, between 450,000 and 1.5 million Somalis have died due to the turmoil since 1991, more than 800,000 have fled as refugees, and another 1.5 million are internally displaced. One in four Somalis is either displaced or a refugee. Humanitarian aid has thus constituted a sizable chunk of spending on Somalia, and this figure is sure to grow sharply given the horrifying famine now under way; the United States alone has offered up $500 million to stem the tide of starvation in the Horn of Africa this year, and the United Nations estimates that a worldwide contribution of at least $2 billion will be needed to address the situation in the horn this year alone.

But although $13 billion is a lot of money, aid experts note that Somali refugees and internally displaced persons receive far less aid per capita than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. The average annual cost of assisting a single refugee from Somalia is just over $300, and the average Somali internally displaced probably receives half that amount in aid, according to estimates prepared by Mercy Corps International for our report. The amount of aid reaching those displaced within southern Somalia remains strikingly low, in part because insecurity, al-Shabab obstructionism, and U.S. terrorism restrictions have made access to these populations incredibly difficult.

AFP/Getty Images

Peacekeeping, military responses, military aid, counterterrorism, and diplomacy: $7.3 billion

The international community has tried just about every trick in the book to contain and mitigate Somalia's instability, ranging from peacekeeping to military aid, counterterrorism efforts, and even Predator drone attacks. The initial U.S.-led international military intervention in Somalia in December 1992 began as an effort to protect food aid shipments from looters, only to quickly morph into an ill-conceived effort to oust the powerful warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. After the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993 that brought a sudden and tragic end to the last U.S.-led intervention, the United States has largely exerted force through proxies, including Ethiopia, Uganda, and Burundi. African Union peacekeepers have made some progress in recent months as al-Shabab has retreated from Mogadishu. But it's clear that Somalia's Transitional Federal Government would collapse without this outside support.

Spending on arms transfers and military approaches has dwarfed the resources invested in diplomacy or institution-building. Indeed, our research indicated that only about $42 million was spent on extraordinary diplomacy -- i.e. not including embassy staffing and other normal costs -- related to Somalia, most of it on crisis monitoring and a series of poorly planned peace conferences. This is a shame because heavy diplomatic spadework is precisely what is needed to help Somalia's clans reconcile and establish a functioning central government. The Transitional Federal Government, which countries including the United States continue to strongly back, remains incredibly corrupt and broadly unrepresentative.


Piracy: $22 billion

The rise of Somali piracy is a fairly recent phenomenon, and an incredibly expensive one. Somali pirates attacked over 154 ships in the first half of 2011 alone, almost 50 percent more attacks than in all of 2008. The average ransom paid per released ship in 2010 was $5.4 million. But ransom costs are only part of the story, with insurance rates, rerouting, international naval deployments, and added security measures all adding to the bill.


International criminal investigations: $2 billion

Somalia's lawlessness has made it an attractive base of operations not only for terrorist organizations and arms traffickers but for a range of other illegal activities as well, including drug trafficking. Costs in these areas are particularly challenging to track with a high degree of accuracy, but drug interdiction efforts, illicit financial flows, and sprawling law enforcement investigations into everything from smuggling to terrorism have added another $2 billion to spending over the last two decades.

Matthew Bash/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Remittances: $11.2 billion

Somalia, like much of the developing world, is incredibly dependent on remittances, money earned by Somalis living and working abroad and sent to relatives in the country. As one aid agency has observed, remittances in Somalia "often make the difference between whether a family survives or not." Even counting only the portion of remittances that have likely gone toward lifesaving aid for Somali families and friends, the total still comes to $11.2 billion.

This incredible level of support from expatriate Somalis does much to explain the country's resiliency despite repeated calamities and long periods of relative neglect by the international community; indeed, for all the money the world has poured into Somalia, the World Bank argues that "the major inflow of 'aid' has come from Somalis themselves."