An Egyptian View of Occupy Wall Street

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Back to New York City where, this morning, the original "Occupy Wall Street" encampment was cleared by authorities. Last month Ibrahim Abdallah paid a visit to the protestors in Zuccotti Park. Abdallah was born in Egypt and now works in marketing in New York. Earlier this year, Abdallah spent three days back home in Cairo's Tahrir Square, so when he went to Zuccotti Park last month, he had some perspective. A few weeks ago, Abdallah has this advice for the "Occupy" activists in Manhattan.

Ibrahim Abdallah: Make it simple, stupid, you know? Keep it in four words. Keep it like, you know, get a chair. You guys need to work on the marketing, like really. It's just not catchy enough. You need Egyptian marketers to come and fix it for you.

Werman: Ibrahim Abdallah, I think if you were a real New Yorker, you would have said, "You need Egyptian marketers to come here fix this for you? Come on!"

Abdallah: Well they actually did do that. They had some people who were leading the protest in Egypt that came and visited the park and they spoke to the protestors, but I think they were doing it for their own parliamentary campaigns in Egypt.

Werman: Right, so that was you we just heard...

Abdallah: Yes.

Werman: mid October commenting on the lack of proper sloganing coming from the movement. What would you say about the movement today after the clearing out by authorities this morning?

Abdallah: Well I don't want to, you know, sound full of myself, but I think I was right. I think what happened is the movement failed because they lacked a clear goal, a clear slogan that can rally people around. They were missing that and when I talked to people there, some of them actually were saying that they were happy not to have a clear goal because they wanted to create a bigger discussion between people. They wanted people to get involved and talk and discuss the issues, but, you know, in my opinion I don't think that works. I don't think it works because the average Joe cannot operate that way. You need to give him something really simple that he can follow.

Werman: Well, obviously the goal of Tahrir Square was much different from whatever the goal is or was with "Occupy Wall Street", but it's interesting what the connection connection might be because when you were in Tahrir Square last February, you noticed that some of the slogans you heard and saw on signs there showed up later in Tel Aviv and New York as well. Give us some examples of what you saw and heard and what kind of impression that made on you.

Abdallah: Well, some of the slogans that people used in Egypt like "[Speaking Arabic]", bread, freedom and social justice and [xx] which means "leave". We've seen them in signs that were used in New York and Rome and Tel Aviv and I think most Egyptians were really happy to see that because for the first time they saw that Westerners were copying them, because, you know, when you grow up in the Middle East in countries like Egypt, you so look up to the West. You so admire that culture and you feel that they do not admire your culture. So for the first time, I think, people saw that Westerners were copying them and that created of lot of like buzz on social media and people were, you know, sharing pictures about it and things of that sort, but I don't think it was relevant, because in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Yemen, the goal is very clear. There's a clear enemy that everybody's fighting. That's not the case in New York. So, it was very nice to see that. At the same time, it didn't really do anything for the movement because it wasn't relevant to them

Werman: Given how you looked up to the West through your youth, did you think the American protestors that occupied Wall Street kind of let you down?

Abdallah: Yeah, a little bit. I mean I really wanted this movement to work and I think a lot of people did. I think a lot of people like thought there was a lot of potential in that movement, but it didn't speak to masses.

Werman: And as busted up as it may be at this point, do you think the movement should regroup and reinvent, you know, itself and do a political party perhaps? I mean maybe with your experience in marketing, there must be something to brand there at this point. I mean they have been out camping for weeks now.

Abdallah: Right, but I don't know what they want to accomplish. I think Egypt went through this. In Egypt, it didn't come up on day and everybody went to the streets and knew what they wanted. It took years, but what we did in Egypt is we forced the President to step down. That's not the goal here.

Werman: So is the advice then "Get a goal"?

Abdallah: Get a goal. Keep it simple, stupid. Make it something that everybody could agree on, not just a small group of protestors in New York City and big cities, a goal that can appeal to people, you know, in middle America because unless you do that, you really have no chance.

Werman: Same advice you had last month? Make it simple, stupid.

Abdallah: Pretty much. Keep it simple, stupid. It's KISS. It's, you know, it's a marketing [xx]. Kiss: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Werman: You're good.

Abdallah: I try.

Werman: Ibrahim Abdallah, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Abdallah: Thank you sir.