#feb12global: its a numbers game this Saturday

The protests are nothing if not unpredictable, and after a media story had set in earlier this week about the Egyptian protests “running out of steam”, we’ve now had, according to most estimates, the biggest so far. With newly-released Google exec Wael Ghonim addressing and apparently inspiring demonstrators, the BBC’s Jim Muir says hundreds of thousands were in Tahrir Square yesterday. The Daily Mail refers to “around a quarter of a million” and on Facebook people have been talking of “millions” of demonstrators across Egypt. However, on Tahrir Square, the Voice of America and the Guardian referred to “tens of thousands”.  The figures, as you can see, are all over the place. Sky’s Tim Marshall has written a fascinating post about how, in his view, there’s been a lot of inflating of the numbers of demonstrators. He cites satellite-mapping work done on Tahrir Square showing that the space can hold about 200,000 densely packed people or about 100,000 less densely assembled ones. He reckons even the very big “Million-Person March” comprised no more than 100,000 people, and possibly about 60,000. Hmm. Does this matter? Well, on one level it clearly does, because protestors seek credibility in numbers and the authorities will often play the figures down (“the police said no more than 200 people attended” etc).  But it’s not just a numbers game either. If there are 50,000 or 500,000 people on the streets of Cairo the point is still largely the same: many people in Egypt are demanding change.  Remember, of course, that Egypt has a massive population and at no time have more than about 1-2% of its 83 million inhabitants been out on the streets (ie even mass protests are always conducted by a minority). Yet remember also that this is Egypt, where up until a few weeks ago large-scale political gatherings would have been crushed within minutes, and the police would almost certainly have meted out beatings and conducted mass arrests (see this report for examples from last year). As any campaign organiser the world over will tell you, it’s not easy to get large numbers of people onto the streets, however compelling the cause. Whatever the exact numbers, the scenes in Cairo have been extraordinary (see these YouTube videos here, here and here – and good luck in guessing which was the biggest demo!) Which brings me to Amnesty’s global day of action, and its centre-piece event in London this Saturday (12-2pm). Amnesty supporters, students, trade unionists, Egyptians and many others will be displacing the Trafalgar Square pigeons (or maybe they’ll stay and listen) to stand in solidarity and defiance with those demanding change. Similar demos will be held in about 20 other countries. It’s a great opportunity to do what many Egyptians (and Tunisians, and Jordanians, and Yemenis…) have been doing with remarkable bravery for weeks: making a stand for human rights. Facebook event page here. Come along.  Amnesty is looking for a crowd of square-bursting proportions (so do come!) but if you can’t attend, please upload a photo of solidarity to this site. The hashtag for Saturday is #feb12global and @AmnestyUK will be live-blogging the event.

Amnesty is keen to ensure that people in Egypt and the regions see people supporting them – this is your chance.

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