Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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EGYPT: What it means when protesters wave shoes

February 10, 2011 |  5:15 pm

When protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square heard President Hosni Mubarak's natioanl address, in which he refused to step down, many took off their shoes and waved them in the air.

"The message of the shoes is clear," British blogger k2p wrote.

But was it?

The moment was captured in photographs, including one on k2p's blog and another snapped by a prostester and uploaded to Twitpic, titled "The anticlimax."


Some of the best descriptions of the significance of shoe-waving came after another incident broadcast around the world in Dec. 2008 — when Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

The Iraqi journalist was detained, and some supporters in Ankara, Turkey, later laid a black wreath with an imprint of a shoe at the gate of the U.S. Embassy in a show of solidarity.

At the time, the Inquirer explained:

"Facing the soles of your shoes toward anyone's face, striking them with your shoe soles, or throwing your shoes at them are considered to be grave insults in Arabic cultures. All Arabs regard streets and, by extension, shoe soles as unclean, and view being struck by shoe soles as a form of extreme disrespect."