Tuesday, June 4, 2013

From Tahrir to Occupy to Istanbul: An Anatomy of Current and Future Protest


There's a sensational, controversial, and inspiring new protest movement out in full force in Turkey. Stunning images of police brutality are circulating the internet, demonstrators are organizing through social media channels, a vaunted public space lies at the heart of the protest, and the whole thing was likely precipitated at least in part due to income inequality. Deja vu, right?

Of course, there are plenty of dissimilarities to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring uprisings—there's an undercurrent of religious tension, for one, as the protesters appear to be primarily secular citizens who've chafed under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist prime minister, and his increasingly autocratic governance.  

But the parallels are myriad, too. There are so many, in fact, that you'd be forgiven for thinking some kind of a pattern was emerging here.

But let's zoom in, and work outward. First, there's the spontaneity. Neither Occupy Wall Street nor the gathering in Tahrir nor, certainly, Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in Tunisia nor the upheaval in Istanbul were pre-organized to be major events. A small group of proto-Occupiers strategized some in advance, the Egyptian labor unions laid some serious groundwork before the big event, and there was a small protest defending a public green space in Istanbul, but nobody thought any of it was going to explode. 

Yet they all did, for a tenuously similar reason: brutal overreactions from the state and police authorities—and vivid photo and video documentation of the carnage that proliferated through social media channels. #OWS didn't really erupt until word spread that police had doused a couple of young women with pepper spray. The Arab Spring was ignited by the most desperate and graphic act imaginable—a man setting himself on fire—and state crackdowns on growing protests fed the tide of dissent. 

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