Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 17th 2013 Contents B4
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, July 17, 2013
A military helicopter files over the presidential palace as opponents of Egypt's former Islamist President
Mohammed Morsi protest in Cairo, Egypt recently. AP PHOTO
It has been claimed that Egyptians
took part this month in the biggest
uprising in history. The nationwide
anti-government demonstrations were
certainly a massive show of people
power. But were the crowds really as
large as reported, and how would you
try to find out?
Protesters against the government of
Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt s first
democratically-elected president, took
to the streets of Cairo and beyond in
huge numbers, before the army then
removed the leader on July 3.
It has been claimed that 30 million
people took to the streets.
"I think that s a gross exaggeration,"
says BBC Middle East correspondent
Wyre Davies, from Cairo.
"It doesn t feel any bigger than it did
in 2011 when we had the revolution.
About half a million people can fit in
Tahrir Square. So it s impossible to say
when there s a big protest in Tahrir
Square, that there are millions of people
"I think nationwide there were mil-
lions of people this time protesting
against the rule of the Muslim Broth-
erhood, but nothing like the 30 or 40
million people some people quoted.
That s 45 per cent of the population -
that s impossible; there are too many
young people in Egypt for the maths
He s right. A fifth of Egypt s 80 mil-
lion-strong population is made up of
children aged under ten.
So where has the figure of 30 million
protesters come from? It s difficult to
find a source for it, or for any of the
other estimates for that matter.
"One figure that comes up a lot is 17
million," says Chris Greenway, from
BBC Monitoring, a team which watches
the world s media. "However I ve not
really been able to pin down the source
for that, better than people quoting
"The state-owned Mena news agency
reported the interior ministry as denying
that it had given any estimate, so it
doesn t appear to have come from them.
"We have Reuters quoting an
unnamed military source that evening
as saying as many as 14 million. And
then we have subsequent reports, saying
there was another estimate of 33 mil-
There s a numbers game in play, as
both sides try to claim they have popular
support, Wyre Davies says.
"What we saw last week was a mil-
itary coup---there s no two ways about
it," he says. "And therefore the only jus-
tification for that logically is that this
was a popularly-backed military coup.
So it s in the interests of the people who
supported the overthrow of the pres-
ident to say that they had these millions
of people supporting them."
Since President Morsi was removed
from power, both sides have been claim-
ing ever-increasing numbers of sup-
porters on the streets, Davis says.
And this is so often the case.
You have to take every crowd esti-
mation with a huge heap of salt, accord-
ing to Hannah Fry, a mathematician
from University College London.
"It s very rare that you have the report
of a crowd size where there isn t some
incentive to exaggerate one way or the
other," she says.
"So if you take the London Stop the
War protest in February 2007, the police
claimed that there were 10,000 pro-
testers---meanwhile the organisers esti-
mate was 60,000, six times the
Even when there s no political agenda,
crowd estimates can be quite variable,
according to Prof Paul Yip from the
University of Hong Kong.
Estimates of the size of the crowd at
the royal wedding of Prince William
and Kate Middleton ranged from
500,000 to a million, he says. While at
the Obama inauguration ceremony,
unofficial government estimates put the
crowd at 1.8 million. Others, gave esti-
mates closer to one million.
There are several ways to count a
crowd, but none of them is perfect.
A simple way to estimate the size of
a mass of people is to take a satellite
image of the event and then draw a grid
on it. You can then count the people
in one of the grids---to get a measure
of crowd density---and multiply that
number by the total number of grids.
But crowd boundaries are often not
clearly defined, and people do not scatter
uniformly, so it it difficult to get an
accurate measure of the density of the
"So the estimation can be a more of
a guesstimate," says Prof Yip.
Counting a moving crowd poses even
more of a challenge.
Sometimes surveys are done after the
event, but people s responses cannot
always be trusted, he says.
Another approach is to physically
count the number of people moving
past a particular point along the moving
crowd s route---but how do you account
for the people who join the procession
at a later location, or for the people who
pass by on more than one occasion?
For the past ten years, Yip has been
monitoring the number of people taking
part in the annual Hong Kong July 1
protests, which mark the handover of
sovereignty from Britain to China.
The counting method he favours is
to physically count the crowd at two
points---A and B. At the second point,
B, he also surveys the people passing
by, asking them if they walked past
point A. In that way, he minimises the
problem of double-counting.
Over the past 10 years, he says, the
gap between an organisers estimate
and the police s has been getting wider
and wider. This year, the police claimed
66,000 took to the streets. The organ-
isers say it was 420,000. Yip estimates
it was more like 100,000.
The organisers tend to exaggerate the
number to try to get more political force,
he says but, in his opinion, this damages
One hundred thousand people on the
street already sends a strong message
to the Hong Kong government that peo-
ple want change, he says.
"But what happens is the organisers
come up with such a huge estimate
which makes a lot of people not very
happy and not very comfortable with
the number. So this huge number itself
has become a very negative thing to the
Was Egypt's uprising the biggest ever?
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