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Occupy Wall Street: Stalwarts of Arab Spring offer advice

They've been through it. Arab Spring protest leaders have some surprising words of wisdom.

for protesters in the United States?

“The best thing I can say is they need to find a way to keep the momentum going. And assemble a group of people that have the same ideas to connect everyone and keep the momentum going. They should know not to give up despite their relatively small numbers. It’s not actually about numbers at this point. I actually see this movement growing. And if these American activists continue their protests and keep doing basically what they're doing, they could actually succeed."

What was the most important thing for you to do once all the Egyptians descended on Tahrir Square?

“Whenever you occupy a place and are sitting in one spot for many hours, and not getting a response from the government, you have to keep yourself entertained. Before we reached Tahrir in late January, the activists had agreed that we would gather for a meeting, but we didn't know exactly what we would do or say. So when we got there, we called a meeting near a palm tree in the square. We discussed how to keep protesters there for as long as possible. We decided that if they're not fed or entertained, then people would start leaving. So we started collecting money for food. And we sent people throughout Tahrir who were singing, telling stories and walking around speaking to each other. You need something like that — even if it's yoga — you have to keep people entertained for long periods of waiting."

How can the Occupy Wall Street protesters succeed?

“One important thing is to have a clear set of demands. And have those demands, which can be in a list, have to be made very public. Over 18 days, Egyptian protesters eventually put up large posters with our demands for the entire square to see. They should also start thinking about how to expand their movement. I think it's going already in the right direction, with the labor unions agreeing to join. But they need more labor unions to get involved."

Photo Gallery: Faces of the arab spring

What about social media?

“I recommend that protesters use Twitter so that people can follow what's happening. And they should create a unified hashtag, because I've noticed that's there are several hashtags in New York. It's very important to have a unified hashtag because one spelling mistake can make a difference. I think #OccupyWallStreet is too long. We used #Jan25, which was short and to the point. We came up with hashtags for all protests. We even had a safety hashtag for activists to tweet once they got home from a protest so that other activists could know that they were okay."

What should protesters do if the police crackdown?

"If the police resort to violence, it's up to the individual protester to decide whether or not they want to run away or fight back. I personally fought back in Egypt. But either way, you have to defend yourself. I recommend that protesters have a mask or scarf just in case the police start with tear gas. In Tahrir, I put an onion dipped in vinegar inside my scarf, and wrapped it around another scarf. And I only breathed through my mouth. But maybe the tear gas in America isn't expired like it was in Egypt. If protesters get arrested, they should know that they have more rights than we had. They can get a phone call. If they're arrested, the protesters shouldn't say anything until there's a lawyer present. They should also find out exactly what charges they face. There's a legal system in America, and that means more legal room to defend themselves."

How do you see it going in New York so far?

"Well, it's already spreading to another cities. That's the key. It was different in Egypt, but they will need to figure out what will keep the momentum going for protesters in American communities. Still, they're doing a good job. This could be a revolution — I already see it as a revolution."

Stav Shaffir, 26, a lead organizer of the Israeli social protest movement.

What advice do you have for the U.S. protesters?

“First thing is, don’t over organize. I think it is one of the most important things. We are all, all of us, protesting against much greater forces than our own. I have to say that I didn’t understand the magnitude of this before we started our own protest. I had no idea how big these interests are.

"We are all standing up against governments, conglomerates, and you have to begin to understand just how powerful they are.

"So the only power we have is not to be an organization. Safeguard your own chaos. The establishment has no idea what to do with a chaotic style of leadership. If you have many leaders, they don’t know what to do with it. You have to make sure to keep up constant activity under different leadership, so that they never know where the next thing is coming from. They are clueless how to respond.”

What should the U.S. protesters keep in mind if they want to meet with success?

“The other thing is honesty and authenticity. You have to be absolutely sure of yourself, to keep being kids, to work from the heart. We do not have to be experts in order to see the problems that surround us, so it is important to remain true to yourself, to respond from the heart, honestly.

"When you are facing a large evil and such injustice, what we have on our side is that we still feel, that we feel mercy, solidarity, friendship; these basic things are what keep us strong.”

Do you have tactical advice?

“In terms of tactics, you have to allow as much liberty as you possibly can. People come up with amazing solutions to problems if you just let them. We never even thought about building a community kitchen, for example. One day someone said ‘we need a kitchen here’ and within the hour, we had a kitchen.

"You have to be prepared to improvise and laugh at problems, not take things too hard or too seriously. Also, its colder there… You probably need some sunshine."

Sameh al-Hamwi, from the Syrian Revolution General Commission

What advice do you have for the U.S. protesters?

“The Wall Street protesters must stay away from violence, especially with the police. They must allow an open space so that people and cars can pass through because by doing so they will gain the support of the public. They must keep cleaning the street and organize their sit in, creating activities, new ideas every day, new banners and logos.

"They could put big speakers to play music or broadcast speeches so people in other neighborhoods can hear. This is how we did it in Hama, to communicate the protest to other people from other neighbourhoods.

"They should be communicating with the media a lot and putting down new ideas and innovative targets. They should issue a list of goals and write them on canvas banners for the protesters to sign, either by hand or by their fingerprints in paint.

"It should not be a leadership campaign. Activists should be distributed between groups so that if one is arrested it does not affect the outcome.

"My heart is with the American people and the youth.”

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