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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pro-Gaddafi Protests: Green Square Size and Capacity

November 13, 2011
last edits April 4

Intro Part, Will be Moved Later
This is a nicely narrow spot to start sorting out something that's been bugging me for months now. In a war justified as being on behalf of the Libyan people and their roughly universal desire for massive change, we seem to have passed over some pretty clear signs those weren't really the Libyan people that were begging for help overthrowing Gaddafi.They weresome of the people, to be sure, but not all of them nor speaking for all of them.

There have been genuine-seeming public displays of support for Gaddafi from the beginning, like the tribal gathering of May. But of special poignance is the epic spectacle other people of Libya, reportedly a million of them or more, and perhaps as many as one in four Libyans alive at the time, who stood together in the capitol (or in Tripoli plus other cities, perhaps, it's confused) on July 1, in solidarity with the old green Jamahiriya flag and the "Dictator's" unorthodox "rule."

This after "the Libyan people" had already demanded the opposite months ago, seized much of the country, and had the most powerful nations on Earth backing them up with bombs and so much else. A reported 1.7 million from the nation of about 6.5 million still said "no thanks," and did it physically, in the same place and/or the same time. Certainly some number of others agreed but couldn't make it, perhaps on account of the civil war, occupation status, being dead, or finally convinced/dispirited by the weight of power against them, etc.

The videos and commentary are ubiquitous, if the exact reality of the protests of July remains nebulous.  The video and photos of it sure looked impressive, even if it wasn't quite, as the Voice of Palestine website reportedly called it, "the largest demonstration ever in world history."

It was uniformly ignored or belittled by mainstream Western media. Mostly ignored, or dismissed wholesale as a stunt by paid actors or those threatened with death if they didn't show up. But here I'll be drawing primarily on an ambitious seeming, and convincing to most, analysis of the details, run by the American liberal site Daily Kos, July 19. This one only mentions threats, bribes, and even computer animation, as passing back-up arguments, but mainly focuses on the details, sort of: Tripoli Green Square Reality Check, by Clay Claiborne.

This cites a supposed Gaddafi loyalist estimate by leftists and Chinese, of 1.7 million people packed into Tripoli's Green Square on at least one occasion, perhaps thrice. I think that is a straw man tactic, but to be sure will take a separate post. The author conveniently finds this achievement impossible, and then passes on alternate estimates that seem to me ridiculously low - 10,000 to 30,000 tops

I had suspected anyone saying even one million in Green Square itself was exaggerating, but not wildly. I would be happy to acknowledge if even that was too generous. But I would be quite surprised to find this opinion of Clay Clairborne's to be anything like reality. 

Green Square Size
To establish basics, I'll start with the definition of Green Square, Tripoli's primarypublic assembly spot. Claiborn says "Green Square is roughly 646 meters long by 238 meters wide." In fact, I get something considerably smaller. In fact I don't know what he's measuring, except maybe the smaller portion, highlighted in red below, but taking feet as meters (I find it's roughly 700 by 300 feet, or 210,000 square feet - surprisingly like his meters).

I've got the basic area as given by Google maps, already re-named "Martyr's Square"over some people who got themselves shot early on. Myself, I'll stick with "green." I'm not sure what counts as the square, and so offer this image in meters. The red outline is the smallest version, that Google's pin points to the middle of. It's about 100-125m at the narrow ends and 210m per long side, plus the side square and perhaps the open air cafe next to that (dead center here, not highlighted).
But across that surrounding street is another much larger public square and surrounding roads and beach front that the crowd could well fill up as well. I excluded the parking lot, which may or may not be fair, but otherwise take this larger version, all that shaded green, which I measured at about 425m (northwest side) by 350m (northeast side).

It's not a complete filling of that square area, although considering the parking lot and southern surrounding streets, the tea house area, and spillover into surrounding streets and perhaps rooftops, using those numbers might be close enough. That says 148,750 sqaure meters, to Claiborne's estimated "just 205,065 sq. meters." That's not "just," it's big - nearly half the size of China's Tiananmen Square (440,000 sq. meters - the second biggest in the world, per Claiborne). It's not quite that big by my measure, but impressive enough considering the China:Libya population ratio of about 220:1.

Theoretical Capacity
Claiborne continues:
205 thousand square meters would appear to be an impossible fit for 1.7 million people

So how many people can you fit into 205,000 sq. meters?.
using the most dense "mob crowd" of 2.5 sq. ft or .23 sq. m. per person it would appear that Tripoli's Green Square could support a rally of at most 891 thousands people.
He gave sources there, but basically it came down to four people per square meter being fairly crowded, which is true. On my measure, I get only 595,000 people at that density. But four per square meter really isn't the densest it can get, just the densest it can comfortably or safely get. Perhaps 50% more people could be crammed in there hypothetically. I'll have to agree that this wouldn't fit 1.7 million, but something more in the neighborhood of 900,000, roughly what was widely claimed, is not far out there at all. That's not to say it happened, but it could.

How Dense on July 1?
Next, take note that the photos show this up-to roughly one million-capacity space is pretty well filled. To clarify, Claiborne refers to a sequence of three Tripoli demonstrations, whereas I'll focus just on July 1, which seems to have been the largest rally in the capitol (supported the same day by smaller demonstrations in other cities). These images from that date, compiled by Clothcap, were linked to and drawn on by Claiborne.

He uses the following image to suggest a fairly low density. Note both that he's got a point, here, and that in the arch we can see at least some people actually outside the square, over-spilling into surrounding streets and casting doubt on his simple estimates based on the square's limited size.

The following image of the square's west end was not used by Claiborne and shows greater density over a greater area. Note the side-street spill-over in the upper middle of the picture. Solid humanity, unbroken as far as the eye can see and one can only guess how much further back.

Other images suggest an overall density somewhere between these two extremes. It's not the uniform shoulder-to-shoulder packing that could achieve a figure like a million, but not all that shy of it either.

All these photos were taken from the smaller portion of the square as I've identified it, the red western portion.  However, as another image (below) clarifies, the crowd did in fact extend a block to the west of that, perhaps to the waterfront, and presumably across at least part of the much larger public square next door. The green flag, kilometers long, snakes along the dividing street there, between rows of palms, and surrounded by crowds on both sides.

As far as how many people there actually were per square meter, I've done a rough count on the second large image here. I've measured the area captured in that photo as approximately 6,000 square meters on the western end of the smaller portion of the square.

The head/pixel count within that area was done section-by-section, each with a range based on possible over-counting and possible misses. The image below shows these totaled into three broader segments - near, middle and far.

What I got for each section adds up to a range of about 3,195 to 3,740. I feel it's fair to add at least 5% for people too short to have appeared above the others, those just around corners, inside using the restroom, running back to the car for the camera, etc. So 3,355 to 3,927 in or around this part of the square is a nice conservative estimate.

The density by this is about 0.56 to 0.65 people per square meter. That's nowhere near the crowded level of four per. It's not as dense as it looks from the trick of depth. The sparser looking image has about 1,000 people in about 1,500 sqm, so I will in fact consider these numbers pretty representative and do no averaging of densities so similar.

Before extrapolating, I'll clarify my overall space estimate here at about 3/4 of the full-square 148,750 m sq. Rounding up, that's a bare 111,600 m sq. That makes the segment shown in that photo (6,000 sq m) about 5.4% of the total space available. 18.5 times this total would give us what the whole square would hold at this density.

That yields about 62,000 to 73,000 people. There could be some more or less than this, and my estimates may well be low (I was trying not to go high). But within the square itself, I really doubt there were any more than 90,000 to maybe 100,000 people tops. At the particular moment shown. 

The Time Aspect
Another highly relevant point is that there's simply no need to argue, for either side, that 1.7 million or even one million people needed to be physically in the square at any given time. The July 1 protest, and likely the others, would have been all-day events.  Some people would come in the morning, and some of those would stay, while some would leave after a time. Others would come at mid-day, others in the afternoon and evening, with others leaving for work or other business.In such rotating shifts, there could easily be a million or more total with the square itself never being filled to top capacity at any one time.

Like the problem of spill-over to surrounding streets, Claiborne conveniently ignores the time aspect in his simple geometry equation.

Not that it's easy to consider it with any relevant accuracy. Should we presume the batch seen at this time represents 50% or 10% of the total all day? I think a total of twice what we see is low, and reasonably suggest as many as six times this many passed through at all times combined. Putting this range on the range of totals at filming, this is a reasonably broad range of daily totals: 124,000 at the very low end, to 438,000 sort-of maximum.

We can see that both Clay Claiborne and his sources were grossly wrong topping out at a pathetic 30,000 (and still considering many of those insincere - paid, trucked in, and/or threatened). But unless there's something major I'm missing, any estimate of a million people or anything higher than about half that was also far off. My own initial suspicions it was somewhere between 500 thousand and maybe a million has been challenged to my standards. Politics may have intervened to amplify the numbers, just as it's intervened to lower them, to dismiss all domestic support, to accept as truth every alleged regime crime anyone can imagine to "justify" this war, and so on.

Update April 4: Reader Art Bethea thinks the estimates here are too low, even the high end, and it could be so. The method is what it is and shows what it does. He cites Franklin Lamb, who was probably there and who said that “close to 65% of Tripoli’s population” attended the July 1st rallies.

Art notes: "I read at least ten of Lamb’s articles on the war. He’s one of the most valuable sources that I’ve read and doesn’t seem to reach for data (unlike, say, Thierry Meyssan of the Voltaire Network who accepts the 1.7 million figure). 65% of Tripoli is close to a million people—or was before regime change."


  1. Claiborne points to the nonsense of a French flag in the demo. If you look at other photos, eg in the video series by Franklin Lamb,(part 3 here) it is seen to be the flag of Chad, Blue yellow red at 1.11. (Part 3 of 3 parts). It certainly looks a much busier demonstration than the demolition job of Claiborne suggests,more like your middle photo. A Pakistani flag also flies.
    And Claiborne says that the cherry picker camera is for propaganda. And if it shows a true event, so what?? Surely that it is true witness?
    Incidentally, Franklin Lamb has recently written about the new Libya - Terror and Revenge Engulfs NATO’s Libya in Counterpunch, 11 November 2011 "The “new Libya” has entered its own “Terror” which is spreading inexorably, aided by NATO member states including American, French and British SAS units known locally as “disappearance squads....Following meetings with Libyan evacuees (disappeared) from NATO’s nine months of bombing who are now present in nearby countries and from meetings inside Libya with incarcerated former officials and some of their family members as well as fugitive opponents of the new “government” it is clear that the current period is cascading into paroxysmal revenge attacks and political cleansing.

  2. There are many issues with this clown's analysis that I'll cover in future posts until I have a massive de-bunkof his de-bunk. The French flag is particularly stupid to latch onto. Why not the Lebanese one too? They helped launch the Arab League fig leaf... No rebel flags, just outside powers to whom they're saying "we still love your country, why won't you love ours?" Just what he thinks it's supposed to mean (rebel infiltrators?) isn't clear.

    And the camera grips, indeed. How else do you film a million people except with cranes? Even these seem to have been inadequate to catch the sheer volume. They should've "spared no expense" even more. As it is, it was all a waste and ignored, so why not give us more to ignore?

    As for what Lamb says, well, howelse do you correct the problem that a huge chunk of Libya's people are opposed to the program of "the people of Libya"? I hope someone makes it stop, but I suspect humanitarian intervention was a limited time offer.

  3. Here is an analysis of an anti-Assad demonstration in Hama in Syria on July 15th, 2011. AFP reported, citing the always reliable Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that there were 500 000 protestors. Le Monde claims there were a total of 1 200 000 protestors in Hama and Deir ez-Zor.

    The author of this article who was there and took pictures claims there were no more than 10 000.

    Syria - Lies and manipulation
    by Pierre PICCININ

  4. Not so big but worth mentioning - a Pro-Gaddafi demonstration in Washington DC...أزلام النظام المتهالك الليبي في واشنطن ,uploaded on February 19 2011. which translates as Libyan Thugs, dying regime.Gaddafi dogs etc etc, uploaded by a rebel supporter unsurprisingly.

  5. 434,000 may be selling the pro-Qaddafi crowd short.

    In a 12 July 2011 piece, Franklin Lamb said that “close to 65% of Tripoli’s population” attended the July 1st rallies. “France Says NATO Bombing Has Failed.” Foreign Policy Journal 12 Jul 2011 http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2011/07/12/france-says-nato-bombing-has-failed/

    Lamb spent considerable time in Libya during 2011 and was in Tripoli when it fell. He probably attended the July 1 rally.

    I read at least ten of Lamb’s articles on the war. He’s one of the most valuable sources that I’ve read and doesn’t seem to reach for data (unlike, say, Thierry Meyssan of the Voltaire Network who accepts the 1.7 million figure).

    65% of Tripoli is close to a million people—or was before regime change.

    Obviously, Lamb could have over-estimated the crowd size, but I think his estimate should be in the article.

    Art Bethea

    1. Not a bad idea, Art. I wouldn't just replace this with any un-explained assessment, but it's worth noting. Lamb (as far as I know) is pretty level-headed and reliable. This estimation came out lower than I thought. But it's a valid process, I did it, and it gave that result, imperfect as it is.


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