What do Egypt and Wisconsin have in common? Massive protests and high-voltage rhetoric.
Wisconsin public employees are staging protests against newly elected Gov. Scott Walker, who has proposed sharp budget cuts that would require public workers to pay more for their pensions and their health care. Thousands of public workers are in the capital to take part in demonstrations, and some Madison, Wis., public schools even closed today as teachers called in sick to join protests.
Walker has upped the ante by threatening to bring in the National Guard if public workers decide to walk off the job or if their protests disrupt services around the state.
Labor activists responded by saying that Walker could ignite a "class war."
And now many are comparing Walker to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who tried to cling to power while protests roiled his country.
Today, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson writes, "[E]ven as workers were helping topple the regime in Cairo, one state government in particular was moving to topple workers' organizations here in the United States."
He was referring, of course, to Wisconsin. Meyerson decries Walker's National Guard threat as "a throwback to 19th-century America, when strikes were suppressed by force of arms. Or, come to think of it, to Mubarak's Egypt or communist Poland and East Germany." Meyerson calls Walker "Wisconsin's pharaoh."
The comparison is also being invoked by the Wisconsin protesters themselves. "The success of a grass-roots uprising in Egypt in toppling strongman Hosni Mubarak was a source of inspiration for many of those who brainstormed Tuesday in Madison about resistance to attacks on U.S. workers in several states," Pat Schneider writes in The Capital Times, a left-leaning paper in Madison. The rallying cry: "fight like an Egyptian."
Reports also say the comparisons have carried over to protesters' signs, with placards saying things like "Mubarak-check. Walker--?" and "Hosni Walker, Elected Dictator."
The connection between the Middle East and Midwest politicians has been percolating online for more than a week, with a website, Minimubarak.com, making the rounds. It's popular on Twitter, too, with tweets like these:
Wisconsin, you have yourself a little Mubarak. Stay strong.
Apparently Mubarak is now the governor of Wisconsin. Maybe social media will help us against our dictatorship too.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the comparison is drawing protests from the right. Newsbusters' Tim Graham dismissed it as an inappropriate exaggeration, writing, "The last we checked, Wisconsin still had a legislature, not to mention a judicial system for checks and balances."
To get an idea of how massive the protests are, check out this YouTube video of a rally at the state capitol yesterday.
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