The List

Watching Wall Street

The world's media react to America's newest political phenomenon.

After a year of protests throughout the Middle East toppled dictators who were once America's buddies, the world's media are understandably captivated by the sight of people taking to the streets and occupying a square in downtown Manhattan. But what does it all mean? As they did with the Tea Party, some countries seem eager to pounce on Occupy Wall Street to highlight that the United States has its own internal dissent to contend with. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of differing opinions.


The Islamic Republic has been the most active in its coverage of Occupy Wall Street. State-run, English-language Press TV, in particular, has had extensive commentary on the movement. As one of its commentators put it, America is "living under a horrendous propaganda system."

Meanwhile, the Fars News Agency was largely critical of President Barack Obama's approach to the financial crisis:

And God knows, Americans missed the rendezvous they were supposed to have with democratic politics in January 2009. With a newly-elected president who gave great hopes for change in words, politics failed the Americans in that first phase of the crisis. Barack Obama installed a Wall Street-friendly team that resisted fundamental changes in the financial model that caused the collapse and the deep recession that followed.

In another article published by Fars, Wall Street was characterized as more than just a bastion of corruption; it was "the financial Gomorrah of America."

Meanwhile, the Tehran Times, with little apparent sense of irony, emphasized the police brutality toward protesters in Manhattan. The same article also characterized the demonstrations as a statement against "excessive force and the unfair treatment of minorities."


According to the pro-government international television station Russia Today, the protests are more than just a movement against corporate interests: They are the beginning of a "potentially violent revolution" in America. Voice of Russia and Russia Today had pieces referring to the movement as the beginnings of a widespread class revolt within America, with Russia Today stating:

A new season in a different nation: the Arab Spring has become America's Autumn. 

And on Saturday, New York's Brooklyn Bridge reminded many of a scene from Egypt's Tahrir Square.

The U.S. mainstream media was roundly criticized by Pravda, which described the press coverage as a "total media blackout" against the protesters. Russia Today took a shot at Obama, describing the protests as being against "four more years of Bush," while it called the arrest of protesters an example of "heavy-handed policing."


The state-controlled Chinese media picked up on the Occupy Wall Street movement only this past week, when demonstrations finally grew. But they're not ignoring it now. Xinhua has run slide shows showcasing the diversity of the protesters. The articles, on the other hand, tend to highlight the prospect that Wall Street's greed will take down America's financial empire.

Xinhua editorialized:

American citizens and politicians alike love to talk about how Wall Street never seems to receive a harsh enough penalty for its actions. They say that if the capital of the financial world wishes to regain the trust of the public, it needs to reflect on current practices and amend its ways.

The Chinese media have also noted the protesters' indignation with the role that money has in politics. Perhaps wary of encouraging a resurgence of the recent anti-corruption protests in China, the official media's coverage of the Wall Street protests tends to take the "it's-worse-over-there" line, highlighting America as a more decadent society permeated by government corruption.


In India, which recently saw its own wave of massive anti-corruption protests, coverage has been mixed. Online news site has editorialized in favor of the protesters, with one article comparing the movement to Anna Hazare's hunger strike in August. The Times of India played off the Arab Spring, referring to the protests as the American Fall while harkening back to Gandhi:

Some commentators have rubbished the movement, describing it as a minor "mob uprising" that will not have legs. Others see it expanding with some labor groups and unions ready to join the protests . Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 gave the movement a small bump.

"Today is Gandhi's birthday . What better day for each of us 2 commit ourselves 2 the OccupyWallStreet movement ? If not now, when?" the film maker Michael Moore tweeted.


Coverage of the protests has been sparse around the Arab world, which is still undergoing its own social upheaval. Granted, after what has happened in Libya and Egypt, a few hundred protesters in Manhattan is small potatoes. Most news sources have been relying solely on wire reports.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which gave life and voice to the Middle East uprisings and has an increasingly large U.S. following, writes that "major aspects of Occupy Wall Street remained undefined. The group has not issued any set of demands, and has prided itself in bringing people together over an issue rather than a goal."

The channel has also featured some discussion of the role of social media and technology in both Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.

The editorials have been, for the most part, sympathetic to the goals of the protesters:

What disgusts some, inspires others, and that event is now firmly embedded in the legacy of the US left, which may have changed its character, but not its dislike of America's Mecca of money and symbol of greed.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

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."