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Egypt's 'Day of Rage' not inspired by Chicago rampage

Egypt's 'Day of Rage' has a familiar ring in Chicago. But the phrase has Arab, not American, roots and the outcomes of the protests are worlds apart.

February 23, 2011|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptian demonstrators turn out in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb. 4 to demand President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Egypt's 'Day of Rage' on Jan. 25 helped topple the regime in 18 days.
Egyptian demonstrators turn out in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb.… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Reporting from Amman, Jordan — When the young Egyptian activists plotting President Hosni Mubarak's downfall summoned people to revolt on Jan. 25, they announced a Youm al Ghadad, a "Day of Rage," in which the masses would pour into the streets and tell authorities they'd had enough.

Half a world away, in Chicago, the call had a familiar ring to it.

In another era, for another struggle, a group of young men and women who called themselves the Weathermen had put out the call to bring the war in Vietnam home in all its ferocity to the moneyed streets of Chicago's Gold Coast and other neighborhoods. The four-day rampage became known as the "Days of Rage."

The October 1969 protests, followed by a six-year underground bombing campaign, marked the beginning — and in some ways the end — of violent popular insurrection in late 20th century America.

Egypt's Day of Rage, by contrast, toppled an entire regime in 18 days. Since then, in the last two weeks, Days of Rage have erupted like cluster bombs across the Middle East and North Africa. From Yemen and Algeria to Libya and Bahrain, people who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore have seized on an old but suddenly powerful password.

But even if the words are the same, one of the original Chicago revolutionaries is among those scoffing at the notion that any inspiration for the Middle East unrest came from America.

"I doubt that they meant any real connection to us," said Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Weathermen, which later became the Weather Underground. "They have very much their own sense of who they are, and they don't appreciate, I think, the implication that they got it from some American text."

Asad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-born professor at Cal State Stanislaus, said that trying to look for Western influences in dramatically indigenous revolts misses the point.

"I understand it's very difficult for the white man to look at the natives acting in a way that is inspiring and causing so much attention without hoping to take credit," said AbuKhalil, who writes the Angry Arab blog.

"When the Muslims or Arabs protest in ways that are violent, in ways that the West doesn't like, they are blamed, I would say wrongly, on Islam or some peculiar, weird aspect of Arab culture," he said. "But when Arabs protest in a way that is inspiring, in a way that is causing even people in Wisconsin to see them as a model, then the West believes that they couldn't have done it themselves, there must have been some Westerner who must have inspired them."

Yet the connection of words and fury across time has not been entirely lost.

Aiman Chahin, a 22-year-old college student who grew up in Egypt but now lives in the Netherlands, started a Facebook page called Day of Rage Egypt and said he was mindful of the Weathermen connection.

In an e-mail, he quoted John Jacobs of Students for a Democratic Society, from which the Weathermen emerged. "He said, 'We don't really have to win here.... just the fact we are willing to fight the police is a political victory,'" Chahin recalled.

The Days of Rage phrase has even come full circle: The mantra has been adopted by the thousands of pro-labor protesters in Wisconsin standing in the streets against a proposed new law that places limits on collective bargaining.

At one point recently, someone started a Day of Rage America page on Facebook calling on the public to "stand March 12 against the … capitalists that are exploiting our workers" who are in favor of jobs, housing, healthcare and clean energy.

The site has since disappeared, but it created plenty of rage among conservatives, who accused its unknown creators of trying to derail the "tea party" movement's "Road to Ruin-Pull It Over" protest March 13, when Americans are being asked to pull over to the side of the road with their headlights on and proclaim from their windows their beef of the day.

"I say the Day of Rage protest is a traitor rally and all participants should be deported to Sudan where they could be happy," Pull It Over protest leader Lynn Vogel wrote. "We will NOT be stopped or swayed by idiot commies acting the day before! God Bless America!"

Mark Rudd, another of the original Weathermen, said organizers in Chicago originally planned to call the riots there "Chicago National Action," with the motto, "Bring the War Home."

"We never called it 'Days of Rage.' It came from the media," he said. "My first reaction to 'Days of Rage' was that it was derogatory, reducing the whole thing to an emotion, but over time it's grown on me. I'm thrilled that young people around the world — including here at home, for example in Wisconsin — are using the term."

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