Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

Middle East protesters share advice and experience with US demonstrators

From what to wear to how to protect yourself digitally, Lebanese, Turkish and Palestinian protesters advice gained from their protest movements

As thousands of US citizens continue to take to the streets against police brutality and racism, protesters from the Middle East are sharing advice on how to stay safe.

Protests erupted on May 26 after the killing of George Floyd in police custody was recorded and posted online by a passer-by, the latest in a series of killings of black people by the police in the US.

The video showed police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes – Mr Chauvin was later charged with second-degree murder.

Images from cities such as Los Angeles and Washington, as well as Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, showed police using pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters. These same tactics have been used by governments and police forces across the Middle East, prompting some with similar encounters to share advice.

Palestinian Rana Nazzal shared her experiences of avoiding being hit with tear gas and what to do if it happens to you.

“[The] most dangerous teargas injury is being hit with the canister (when fired out of a gun). Like bullets, they can kill,” she wrote in a detailed Twitter thread, stressing that although she had some medical training, she was not a doctor.

“Unlike bullets, teargas travels slow enough to watch it coming so don’t turn & run when they start firing. Watch them shoot it & dodge. Move calmly upwind,” she added.

A Twitter user claiming to have been part of the Gezi protests in Turkey, which marked their seven-year anniversary this week, also gave advice.

October saw the start of protests in Lebanon against a dire economic downturn and government corruption. Albeit muted because of the coronavirus pandemic, the demonstrations are ongoing.

Sarah Aoun and Azza El Masri took part in the uprising in Beirut and saw an opportunity to share what they had learned from months on the front lines of the protests.

“Sarah and I – along with many in our community – noticed that the footage coming out of Minneapolis was very similar to what we've experienced in Beirut, especially during the very first days of our October revolution in 2019,” Ms El Masri, 25, told The National.

“It's not to say that our struggles were the same – they are not – but we noticed that police response, official reactions, and media framing mirrored what we'd experienced at the height of our revolution," the media researcher said.

The guide, issued on co-working software and document platform GitHub and as a Twitter thread by Ms Aoun, gives advice on which clothes to wear, what to take to a protest and a section on protecting your digital devices.

“Digital rights are human rights and no one's freedom of speech or protest should be impacted by the fact that they're out at a protest,” Ms Aoun said.

“There are mass surveillance devices being used to gather information on protesters. So it's really important for people to stay as safe as possible in the digital sense as well.”

Ms Aoun, a human rights technologist who works on privacy and security with journalists, activists and human rights defenders, now lives in Brooklyn and has been acting as a medic in the US protests.

“It seemed like the police were deliberately targeting the press as we have seen in the news everywhere, but they've also been deliberately targeting medics and they came charging at us a few times and arrested, one of my colleagues who was there as well.

Ms Aoun said it is hard to draw comparisons between the Lebanese and US protests, but that there were common threads in the police response that enabled them to put together the guide.

“There are some similarities in police tactics used when it comes to the tear gas and pepper spray, but overall the US has a much, much more sophisticated means of surveillance and targeting of people than Lebanon does,” Ms Aoun said.

The guide is an exercise in paying it forward.

“Just as friends in Hong Kong and Chile helped us [in Lebanon] navigate police abuse and gave us tips about best practices, we thought it would be good to do the same for those protesting in the US as a show of solidarity,” Ms El Masri said.

The guide has been popular. Ms Aoun’s tweet linking to the guide has been retweeted over 6,500 times.

“We have been inundated with messages of gratitude, not just from protesters in the US, but also in Brazil ... It has shown me that despite our differences, many communities continue to experience different facets of state violence and have found areas of solidarity within these differences.”

Social media in the Middle East was alive with solidarity for black Americans throughout the week, but some cautioned those posting to look closer to home.

“Many have noticeably forgotten the plight of black people in Lebanon,” said Ms El Masri.

“Migrant workers are subjected to some of the most heinous treatment at the hands of the government – that doesn't offer these workers legal protections – and employers, who underpay and abuse their workers.”

“This is made possible due to the kafala system. Our solidarity with black protesters in the US falls short if we do not address the systemic racism that black people endure within our own home. True solidarity starts by the abolishment of the kafala system.”

Updated: June 5, 2020 03:16 PM

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