U.S. Response to Protests Feels Familiar to Those Who Lived Through Arab Spring

Gene Naumovsky

Academics, journalists, and activists recall the Egyptian revolution, and see reflections in a divided U.S.

After speaking with journalists, academics, and activists who lived through the Egyptian Revolution, Business Insider found reoccurring and similar themes within the current protests sweeping the U.S. The Arab Spring saw 846 Egyptians perish within the first weeks of protests. An Egyptian graffiti artist and graphic novelist known by the name “Ganzeer,” Mohamed Fahmy remains in the U.S. after being exiled in 2014 for government-critical art and activism. After witnessing protests in Houston, Texas, Fahmy said, “It feels 100 percent familiar.”

Former Egypt correspondent for The Guardian and author of “The Egyptians,” Jack Shenker compared the events of May 31, 2020, in which an NYPD car drove into protestors, to those of the Maspero massacre of October 2011 in Cairo. As President Trump sends out 17,000 National Guard soldiers, a growing military presence also reminds of Egypt’s armed forces presence.

In terms of police tactics, and the frequent use of tear gas, Ganzeer recalled the events he lived through, saying, “I remember the first time we saw a tear gas canister being shot at us on January 25. No-one knew what it was, right. There was a pause where like everyone's like: 'Oh, what is that?' And then it lands and then it's letting out the gas, and everyone starts panicking.” Tear gas use remains illegal in war. Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer, lost her left eye during the Minneapolis protest after police officers shot her with a rubber bullet. The incident, while unknown if intentional, can remind some of the “eye hunters” among the Egyptian police during the Arab Spring, says Dr. Sherene Seikaly of the University of California Santa Barbara. Dr. Sikaly was present in Cairo during the revolution.

In addition, attacks on the press and a backdrop of creeping authoritarianism have encouraged academics to compare the two series of protests. Research at the Center on Democracy, Dr. Hesham Sallam said Trump reminded him of “an honorary member of the club of Arab autocrats.”

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