A United Rallying Cry

By Sumayyah Meehan-MMNS


Iraqi journalist, Muntadar Al Zaidi, did a whole lot more than just throw his shoes at outgoing US President George W. Bush this past December. What was seen by most as a symbolic gesture of Arab anger and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness over Bush’s failed foreign policies during his tender has turned into a global phenomenon that transcends all borders. Thanks to Al Zaidi, the shoe, in all its ordinariness, has been catapulted into a common rallying cry against oppression and unlawful acts of aggression. Al Zaidi used the power of his footwear to denounce the Iraqi war. Most recently, protestors across the world have used their footwear to show their outrage against Israel’s war on Gaza since it began.

-    In Mexico City, hundreds of protestors demonstrated for an end to the Gaza siege outside of the American Embassy. Many took off their shoes, lit them on fire and smashed them against the entrance gates.

-    In the Philippines, thousands of protestors marched to the Israeli Embassy carrying placards, a shrouded ‘corpse’ and a giant shoe made out of paper mache, which was later thrown at the embassy gates.

-    In Morocco, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the capital city of Rabat chanting anti-Israeli slogans and brandishing a shoe in the air.

-    In London, thousands of protestors threw their footwear at number 10 Downing Street, residence of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, while shouting “Shame on you, have my shoe!”

There have also been shoe brandishing protests in many parts of the Middle East, the most notable was one that happened in Kuwait shortly after the siege on Gaza began. Kuwait MP Waleed Al-Tabtabae, along with 1,000 protestors, gathered in front of Kuwait’s National Assembly building to show opposition against Israel’s war on Gaza. Al-Tabtabae himself removed his shoe and, while brandishing it, said that he wanted to smack President Mahmoud Abbas’s nose with it for his recriminations against Hamas. The act itself was very courageous given that there is a deep resentment that exists in Kuwait between the two Arab nations. The reason for the bitterness is because when late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 he was lauded and supported by late PLO President Yasser Arafat.

After the protest, several Kuwaitis who saw Al-Tabtabae’s shoe as a collector’s item began requesting to purchase it. Out of all the offers, the highest one was for $25,000. However, Tabtabae’s office revealed that the minister would only agree to auction off his footwear on the condition that all proceeds would be donated to help charities assisting with the Gaza humanitarian effort.

As with all popular symbols of protest, which are used to ‘speak’ volumes without anyone even having to utter a word, there is a risk that they will be used inappropriately by those who do not understand the jest of the meaning they hold. Quicker than outgoing US President Bush can dodge a pair of size 10 loafers, some children in the Arab world have started using their own miniature footwear to display their anger no matter how inappropriate the situation. Most recently, a student in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon raised one of his shoes and threw it at his class teacher because he was incensed over her scoring of one of his tests. It remains to be seen if any of his classmates will attempt to purchase, or possibly trade for, the tiny footwear.


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