LONDON (Reuters) - Tahrir Square in Cairo, Green Square in Tripoli, Syntagma Square in Athens and now Zuccotti Park in New York — popular anger against entrenching power elites is spreading around the world.
Many have been intrigued by the Occupy Wall Street movement against financial inequality that started in a New York park and expanded across America from Tampa, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, and from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Hundreds of activists gathered a month ago in the Manhattan park two blocks from Wall Street to vent their anger at what they see as the excesses of New York financiers, whom they blame for the economic crisis that has struck countless ordinary Americans and reverberated across the global economy.
In the U.S. movement, Arab nations see echoes of this year’s Arab Spring uprisings. Spaniards and Italians see parallels with Indignados (indignant) activists, while voices in Tehran and Beijing with their own anti-American agendas have even said this could portend the meltdown of the United States.
Inspired by the momentum of the U.S. movement, which started small but is now part of U.S. political debate, activists in London will gather to protest outside the London Stock Exchange on October 15 on the same day that Spanish groups will mass on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square in solidarity.
“American people are more and more following the path chosen by people in the Arab world,” Iran’s student news agency ISNA quoted senior Revolutionary Guards officer Masoud Jazayeri as saying. “America’s domineering government will face uprisings similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.”
Chinese newspapers splashed news about Occupy Wall Street with editorials blaming the U.S. political system and denouncing the Western media for playing down the protests.
“The future of America stands at a crossroads. Presuming that effective measures to relieve the social mood and reconstruct justice cannot be found, it is not impossible that the Occupy Wall Street movement might be the final straw under which America collapses,” said a commentary in the Global Times.
“This movement has uncovered a scar on American society, an iceberg of accumulated social conflicts has risen to the surface,” said the commentary in the tabloid, which is owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
In Cairo, Ahmed Maher, a founder and leading member of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement which helped to topple autocrat Hosni Mubarak, said it was in contact with several groups organising the anti-Wall Street demonstrations.
“A few days ago we saw a banner in New York that said ‘This is Tahrir Square’,” Maher said, referring to the Cairo square that became the epicentre of Egypt’s revolution.
“The Arab Spring has definitely inspired the burst of protests in the United States and Europe.”
Others noted differences between Arab protesters and U.S. protesters, branded by one Republican presidential candidate as “anti-American” and so jealousy-ridden that they wanted to “take somebody else’s ... Cadillac”.
“The Arab protests started with requests for reform but quickly transformed into demands for governments to leave, or at least their leaders,” said Abdulaziz al-Uwaisheg, columnist in Saudi daily al-Watan. “The American protest is against specific policies ... It did not ask to change the government.”
Spanish media have devoted daily coverage to Occupy Wall Street, dubbing participants “Indignados in Manhattan”, with left-leaning newspapers saying the U.S. protesters were inspired by Spain’s own disenchanted youth-led grouping.
“Occupy Wall Street is one more branch of a global movement,” said Veronica Garcia, a 40-year-old lawyer involved in the Spanish demonstrations.
While Spain’s “Indignados” have poured much of their anger so far on politicians, Garcia said Saturday’s Madrid march was likely to focus more on bankers.
In London, which was hit by rioting and looting by disaffected people in early August, protesters were using social media like Facebook and Twitter to plan their Stock Exchange protest on Saturday.
The Occupy London protest aims to draw attention to “the economic systems that have caused terrible injustices around the world”, according to their website.
“Bankers have got off scot-free whilst the people of this country are being punished for a crisis they did not create,” a statement on the website said, echoing the chant taken up by U.S. marchers: “We are the 99 percent.”
Unions, which organised protests against austerity moves in debt-stricken Greece, welcomed the New York protests.
“It’s optimistic because we haven’t seen such protests before,” Greek public sector unionist Despina Spanou told Reuters. “There is no coordination so far because most of this is spontaneous, but we cannot rule anything out.”
Newspapers around the world have sought to identify the true motor of discontent driving the Occupy Wall Street movement, with the Korea Herald seeing an historic dimension reflecting the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War rallies.
“But perhaps the closest historical parallel is with the Populist movement of the 1890s, which, like Occupy Wall Street, was a broad, economics-driven revolt that targeted a predatory class of corporate capitalists - the robber barons of the Gilded Age,” the newspaper said.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency ran an interview from New York with organiser Kalle Lasn who said he hoped that “Occupy Wall Street” would inspire Japan’s jobless youth.
“Is there some beginning of some kind of ‘Occupy Tokyo’ or ‘Occupy Marunouchi’, something like that happening in Japan right now or not?” Kyodo quoted Lasn as saying, referring to the Marunouchi business district in Tokyo.
The Occupy Wall Street protests across the United States with their focus on banking bailouts and unfairness appeared to present a dilemma for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The protests support one Kremlin agenda by underscoring the economic troubles of Moscow’s Cold War foe, but could also send a signal encouraging street protests — not what Putin wants as he heads toward a second stint as president in a March vote.
This July, Putin said the United States was “acting like hooligans” in the global economy. In August, he said the United States was living beyond its means “like a parasite”.
Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have not spoken publicly about the protests, but state-run TV stations they use to shape opinion seem to have found a way around the contradiction.
Footage of crowds protesting against perceived corporate greed and government connivance echoed the emphasis on U.S. economic inequality that was a Soviet-era propaganda staple.
Such footage may also back up Putin’s argument for a tight state rein on Russia’s corporate world — and his colourful depictions of the United States as a flagging, sometimes dangerously irresponsible financial power.
At the same time, news footage often focusing on outspoken, outlandishly dressed participants in the U.S. protests appeared aimed at lending the crowds a circus-like look that could be to discourage Russians from trying this at home.
The Chinese, however, have not been so subtle, using the movement to fire repeated broadsides at the capitalist system.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement was sparked by the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor,” the Hong Kong Economic Journal said in its editorial.
“Now it looks like the spark is being turned into a great fire that is spreading to other countries.”
British commentators were not so convinced by such an apocalyptic vision. Giles Whittell in the London Times, highlighting the movement’s lack of a coherent agenda, came to the conclusion in a headline that it was: “Passionate but Pointless.”
Reporting by Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong, Andrew Hammond in Dubai, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Marwa Awad in Cairo, Catherine Hornby in Rome, Michael Martina in Beijing, Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo, Peter Griffiths in London, Tracy Rucinski in Madrid, Renee Maltezou in Athens, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, David Cutler in London; Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Mark Heinrich