Insultingly newsworthy: Flying shoes and their unsuspecting victims

Insultingly newsworthy: Flying shoes and their unsuspecting victims
In Arab societies, to be called a shoe is quite an insult. To have a shoe thrown at you, however, may just land you in the world's news.
3 min read
11 Nov, 2018
A bronze statue of a shoe was crafted in honour of Muntadar al-Zaidi [AFP]
In Arab cultures, the shoe has long been used as the object of insults due to its association with dirt and being put on the foot - the lowest part of the body. 

From calling someone a shoe, to aiming and throwing one's shoes at an unsuspecting foe, shoe-related incidents have made international news on several occasions, with Arab politicians often finding themselves on the wrong end of a flying shoe.

Most recently, Houthi defector and former information minister for the rebel group Abdul-Salam Ali Gaber was struck with a shoe hurled by a Yemeni journalist at a news conference in Riyadh.

Following this, here are our top five incidents of shoes in the news:

"Goodbye, dog" - The Bush shoe throwing incident

Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi was hailed by many as a hero after throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush at a press conference in Iraq in 2008. 

Zaidi described the gesture as a "goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people." Bush, who Zaidi described as a "dog", dodged the throw, and Zaidi was rewarded for his efforts with nine months in prison.

This punishment came as quite a relief to the disgruntled journalist, who later said he feared he was going to be "killed" for his actions.

In January 2009, A bronze statue of a shoe in honour of al al-Zaidi was erected at a Tikrit orphanage by sculptor Laith al-Amiri. The monument was later removed following a request from Iraq's central government.

Saddam's Statue, April 2003

When Iraq's most famous statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Paradise Square, Baghdad, jubilant onlookers rushed to stamp, kick and slap the effigy of the former dictator. 

Shoes on our heads for Sisi

In the months that followed the military coup led by now President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, many supporters of the military took to Egypt's streets to show their support for his regime. 

This time, however, the cultural connotations of the shoe were quite literally turned on their head, when supporters of Sisi placed military boots on their heads to demonstrate their love for the army.

Sisi supporters put shoes on their heads

The shoe kisser

While many have used the shoe as an insult, Tunisian journalist Kawthar al-Bashrawi used the connotations related to footwear in Arab culture to convey her deep sense of admiration for the Syrian regime's army. 

The former Al Jazeera journalist sparked controversy in April 2015 when she appeared in a news interview and kissed a shoe that she claimed belonged to a Syrian soldier that she had met in Damascus. Bashrawi, a staunch supporter of Assad, described the shoe as "the most precious gift in my life."

Shoed for meeting the Israeli Ambassador
Egyptian lawmaker Tawfik Okasha was struck with a shoe thrown by a colleague in the Egyptian parliament, following news that Okasha had hosted the Israeli ambassador at his home. Kamal Ahmed, the shoe thrower, later said he deserved "90 million more."