Shooting on set

Getting ready with white ‘shirts’
I’d gone to Marble Arch thinking I was going to photograph a protest, but ended up along with a few other photographers and the public being in the way on a film set. Of course most protests are to some extent organised, but this was one that was being choreographed, and it made me feel uneasy. In part it is the spontaneity of much protest that attracts me to it, and I shiver a little at seeing highly controlled and organised events – whether in North Korea or for the Olympics.

The judge bangs his gavil on the table which is covered by the Egyptian flag

Of course the issues behind the protests are important, and the clampdown by the Egyptian courts with 1,212 death sentences truly reprehensible, even to those who supported the military in their removal of former president Morsi.

The figure of 1,212 comes from two mass trials. At the time of this protest/video, around 720 of the 1212 remained under sentence of death, as of the 529 sentenced in March, 429 had their death penalty reduced to life sentences for 492 on June 1, a week earlier. Of the 683 sentenced in April, the death sentences against between 180 and 200 were confirmed later in June after this protest and almost 500 were acquitted, reducing the number to something over 200. There are also a number of other cases against smaller groups of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mainly for those accused of specific violent crimes against individuals.

Although the number of sentences remains shocking, and the initial sentences clearly political (and many of us oppose the death penalty under all circumstances), it is likely that they will mainly be carried out where there is specific evidence of criminal behaviour. All death sentences in Egypt are subject to review by the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious authority and subject to a final decision by the President.

It was clear from the start that there was something slightly unusual about this event, and that the organisers had not managed to get the support they needed. They had wanted at least 1,212 protesters but had only around a tenth of that number, and their plans to dress them all in white with a number on each person had clearly not quite materialised.

A woman raises both hands in the R4BIA salute

It was a protest that never really got going, with people hanging around until they were told to get into position for the next scene – film extras rather than protesters. I’d left the scene long before most of what ended up in the video was taken and am pleased to say that I don’t think I appear in the video that resulted onĀ  and I’m afraid for all the seriousness of what is happening in Egypt I find it a little amusing in a way that was unintended.

Section by section the crowd fell to the ground and played dead

Of course I didn’t want to get in the way and that was just too much of a restriction on what I was able to do. I left before any use was made of the white balloons you see in the video which might have provided some photographic interest.

Large parts of the action that was filmed make no appearance on the video, which repeats a number of times the judge banging his gavil and sections of the crowd falling. This wasn’t something that worked well in still images, and very few that I took made it the the edited set you can see at Protest Against Egypt Death Sentences.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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