FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Those Protest Numbers in Egypt

by JACK BROWN

Estimates of how many people demonstrated against Mohamed Morsi in Egypt at the end of June have varied by tens of millions of people. Is it really so hard to quantify such gigantic masses of human beings? The numbers are important because the size of the demonstrations was used to justify the military coup which followed them. If anyone had actually cared what these numbers were, the Egyptian military gave them a simple tool: aerial overhead videos of the demonstrations. Here is a reality check.

For a lot of Egyptians, the army’s move against the unpopular president and the Muslim Brothers was merely an exercise of the popular will, a new phase in the country’s revolution. They make wild claims about the number of demonstrators, declaring that there were more people calling for Morsi to step down than voted for him in the first place.

These claims seems to me to be ludicrously exaggerated, even if you ignore the conflation of the crowds’ calls for resignation with the military coup that followed, and even if you take as legitimate the idea of short-circuiting the electoral process via crowd action.

But let’s treat the idea of the “legitimacy of the crowd” seriously for a minute, nevertheless. Is there any possibility that the crowds in Tahrir really outweighed Morsi’s voters of last year?

Tahrir square, defined generously, is an irregular polygon taking in all of the empty space between the Mugamma and the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise up near the corner of Talaat Harb Street, and from Qasr al-Aini street to the walls of the Arab Contractors construction site in front of the Egyptian Museum, about 160 meters by 250 meters. In addition, we should include open space in front of the Omar Makram mosque and all of the street surface area surrounding it, on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Abd Al Qadir Hamza street; this adds another 60 by 120 meters of surface area to Tahrir Square, for a total of 47,200 square meters. Finally, we can throw in all 600 meters of Qasr al-Nil bridge, all the way from Tahrir and across the Nile to Opera Square, since there were frequently crowds on much or all of the bridge. At about 15 meters of pedestrian-usable width, that adds another nine thousand square meters. So we are looking at 56,200 square meters of space.

How many people can fit into a square meter? German scientific studies suggest that the maximum observed densities of large crowds are usually about 4 people per square meter, very rarely climbing above 5. Two people per square meter is the upper limit official guideline for most public events in the UK, and is a pretty dense crowd. Four people per square meter is the UK upper limit guideline for moving crowds (ie queues); 4.7 people per square meter is the maximum permitted crowd density at UK sporting events. I think we can safely take that as the upper limit for the overall density of the crowds at Tahrir two weeks ago. Assuming the crowds for the whole square and the bridge were packed equally densely, shoulder to shoulder, all the way to the Opera House, we are looking at a crowd of…264,140 people.

Typically crowds tend to thin out substantially toward the edges, meaning this is a very liberal estimate. I have here assumed 4.7 people per square meter; based on my view of the (Egyptian-Army provided) helicopter shots of the crowds, I think 2 people per square meter is a better estimate of average density, suggesting commensurately lower crowd figures.

There were simultaneous demonstrations in Heliopolis in front of the presidential palace. Let’s charitably say they packed the entire 45-meter wide Al Nadi Road, from Saleh Salem all the way to Mostafa Kemal intersection, a distance of over a kilometer. The videos of crowds I have seen at that demonstration did not appear to be more than 1 or 2 people per square meter (still a dense crowd), but let’s grant them 4.7 people per square meter as well, on the assumption that there was a point that they were packed like canned sardines, shoulder to shoulder for that entire kilometer. That gives us an additional crowd of 211,000 people. So in Cairo, the two biggest gatherings seem to me to have been of less, and possibly a lot less, than half a million people. Western news agency reports give vague figures for protests elsewhere, saying that ‘hundreds of thousands’ marched in Alexandria and other cities.

Morsi got nearly 3 million votes in Cairo and Giza, (and another 10 million elsewhere) in the June 2012 runoff election. The crowds two weeks ago were huge and exciting, but they were certainly a tiny fraction of the number of people who voted for Morsi. Even Morsi’s first-round votes, probably a better indication of his real support, (it subtracts the substantial anti-Shafiq vote of the second round), was well north of a million in Cairo and Giza.

The early sources for the crowd estimates of June 30…’millions’, seem to have been the military and the interior ministry (which remained under the military’s control despite the civilian government). Not terribly objective sources, since they were planning a coup based on the ‘legitimacy of the crowd.’

As time has gone by, estimates of the crowd sizes drifted into the realm of the improbable and then the absurd, born aloft, perhaps, by the opposition’s unconscious desire to justify the illegal seizure of power. We early on saw claims for 14 million demonstrators-a convenient number which is slightly more than the number of people who voted for Morsi last year. Later, a figure of 17 million was thrown around, suggesting that a crushing majority of last year’s voters were now on the street. Most recently, Nawal Sadawi has claimed that 34 million people demonstrated, another neat figure: a majority of the entire voting age population of Egypt. How convenient.

There is a much simpler way to play these numbers games, a way of establishing legitimacy that has worked well enough for 2,500 years of human history, and that is voting. Morsi should have been obliged to undergo an early referendum, perhaps timed to coincide with September’s parliamentary elections. A small deviation from constitutional norms, but a deviation I suspect he might have consented to. And given the impressive mobilization of the Egyptian people against his opaque and incompetent administration at the beginning of this month, that is a vote I suspect he might have lost.

What happened on June 30 must have been hallucinatory for Egypt’s liberal democracy activists: a vast uprising of the masses demanding that the state focus on bettering their lives, an uprising against a government of the Muslim Brothers. These are activists who have spent their lives in the shadow of the Muslim Brothers, openly belittled by Egypt’s mainstream Islamists as being out of touch with Egyptian society. As it turned out, it was the Brothers who were out of touch, pursuing a bland and ineffective social and economic agenda that conformed to their own social class, but not the Egyptian masses. Had there been true leadership among the opposition, this was a moment when a democratic alternative to the Brothers might well have emerged.

Tamarrud should have immediately and firmly rejected the army’s July 1 ‘ultimatum’ to Morsi. Instead, leaderless and disorganized, they fell into a well-laid trap, no doubt carefully planned by Al-Sisi and his grim little clique.

Jack Brown is co-editor of International Boulevard. He previously researched political repression in Egypt during the Mubarak regime.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail