Rabia sign

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"Rabaa" redirects here. For the Muslim saint, see Rabaa Al-Adawiyya.
R4BIA sign
Protesters raise their hands with the Rabia gesture during a march.

Rabia sign (/ˈrbiə/; stylized as R4BIA), Rabaa (/ˈrb/) or, less commonly, Rab3a, is a hand gesture and a sign that first appeared in late August 2013 in social media and protest marches in Egypt. It is used by protesters, activists and politicians who oppose the recent coup d'état in Egypt, which was led by then-General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi causing the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.[1][2]

The sign is named after Rabia Square in Cairo, where a large anti-coup sit-in was held for about forty days before it was dispersed. The sign is meant to express solidarity with the thousands wounded, killed and burnt by the Egyptian army during the dispersal and persistence of anti-coup movement, whereas pro-coup activists, figures and media consider the sign to be a terrorist sign. The origin of the sign is unknown.[3][4]

The gesture is made by raising four fingers of any hand and folding the thumb.[3] The stylized word 'R4BIA' is sometimes interpreted as an acronym.

Rabia sign has had a significant impact worldwide. In Egypt, security forces and the military-backed government consider the sign to resemble terrorism, by confining its wide use solely to the Muslim Brotherhood. Judicial penalties are imposed on users of the sign, whether it is in protest marches or online. On the other hand, the anti-coup mass, inside and outside Egypt, describe the sign as one that resembles freedom and persistence. They also denounce linking it with terrorism.[4][5]

Egyptian and non-Egyptian politicians are regularly seen making Rabia gesture.[4][6]


Coup d'état in Egypt[edit]

Rabia sit-in

In June 30, 2013, nation-wide protests in Egypt were organized against President Mohamed Morsi, demanding his resignation and consequent early presidential elections.[7] Key participants were Tamarod movement, April 6 Youth Movement and Al-Wafd party,[8][9][10] in addition to unaffiliated participant, who were mostly secularists.[11][12] Local and state media played an important role in creating national rage. The main cause behind such rage was the intention of the Muslim Brotherhood, while in power, to apply Islamic law into Egyptian constitution.[13] Morsi, being to this date in power for almost one year, refused to resign, stating that he is the legitimate president who won the first democratic elections in the history of modern Egypt.[14][15] Days before opposition protests, pro-Morsi protesters organized counter-demonstrations insisting that Morsi should continue his 4-year term.

On July 3, a coup d'état was forced by then-General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi leading to the ouster of Morsi.[1][2][3] Shortly after, supporters of Morsi, mainly inclusive of the Muslim Brotherhood, held two main sit-ins opposing the coup. The sit-ins comprised individuals and families, affiliated and unaffiliated, from Cairo and further areas and governorates, all demanding the reinstatement of Morsi.[16]

Sit-ins dispersal[edit]

On August 14, the Egyptian police, aided by the military, decided to dissolve the sit-ins by force. The sit-ins witnessed exaggerated use of force and live ammunition, which the local and state media justified by the claim of existence of heavy weapons inside the sit-ins.[17] A well-established local newspaper falsely accused the demonstrators at the sit-ins of Rabia and al-Nahda squares to have possessed anti-aircraft missiles, highly flammable explosives, laser sniper guns, as well as internationally prohibited chemical weapons.[18] On the other hand, Human Rights Watch said in a report that only firearms were observed, rather rarely, and that the protesters were ″overwhelmingly peaceful″ to be attacked in such a disproportionate and premeditated lethal way.[16]

The death toll is disputed. Egyptian Health Ministry reported 638 civilians killed and 3,994 injured, in addition to 43 police officers reported died.[19][20][21] Anti-Coup Alliance later claimed 2,600 killed.[22] Furthermore, many corpses remained unidentified as they bore gunshot wounds and were charred beyond recognition.[23][24][25]

In a report, Human Rights Watch said at least 1,150 demonstrators were killed, which, the organization said, probably amounts to crimes against humanity.[16]

Appearance of the sign[edit]

Rabia sign in a protest march, August 23, 2013.
Protester wearing a hat holding the sign.

After sit-ins dispersal, Rabia sign emerged widely in social media and protest marches. The origin of the sign is unclear. It is said that it was invented by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while being the Prime Minister.[4] Other sources say it never transpired who invented the sign or came up with the idea for it, and that the sign is not to be claimed by any country or group as their own.[26]


The sign is used as a means to express solidarity with the victims of dispersal. Given the namesake of the sign, saint Rabia Al-Adawiyya, the sign is also said to be used to cherish her legacy. The four-fingered sign was adopted as well to distinguish the use of the V sign made by pro-coup mass, as a means to demonstrate their 'victory' over President Morsi.[3]

The colors used in the graphical sign, the yellow and black, respectively resemble the golden dome of Qubbat As-Sakhrah Mosque in Jerusalem, and the Kiswah of the Kaaba.[26]


The namesake of the sign is Rabia Square in Cairo, which witnessed one of the main anti-coup sit-ins. The square is named after the Muslim saint Rabia Al-Adawiyya. The name Rabia in Arabic means 'fourth' (4th), hence the four-fingered hand gesture.[3][26] The name (Arabic: رَابِعَة‎) is pronounced in two different ways:

Romanizations are pronounced in English as /ˈrɑːbiə/ and /ˈrɑːbɑː/, respectively. The stylized word 'R4BIA' depends on classical Arabic romanization.

Rabaa is often further rendered into Rab3a (see Arabic chat alphabet).[citation needed]

As an acronym[edit]

The stylized word 'R4BIA' is commonly interpreted as an acronym into two statements:

  • Ready For Brotherhood Independent Army.
    This interpretation was used by media as an evidence on the terrorist background of the sign.[27][28]
  • Rightness. Freedom. Barehanded. Independence. Anti-coup.
    'Rightness' signifies the rightness of legitimacy of President Morsi. 'Barehanded' signifies peacefulness.[citation needed]


The gesture is made by raising four fingers of any hand (preferably the right hand) and folding the thumb.[3] When made by the right hand, the gesture is worth 30 in finger binary, and 480 if made by the left hand. In Chinese number gestures, it is worth 4.

Graphical description[edit]

The graphical sign comprises a black (R0 G0 B0; see RGB color model#Numeric representations) right hand with four fingers raised, thumb folded, on a yellow (R254 G224 B2) background. 'R4BIA' word goes beneath the hand in the same yellow colour, in capital letters of the font 'Bebas Neue.' All the objects are enclosed in a black square with rounded corners (squircle).



Erdoğan gesturing Rabia.

Rabia sign has widely influenced political and social levels, both in Egypt and the world. The President of Turkey, Erdoğan is regularly seen in conferences and speeches making Rabia gestures.[3][6] The Mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbaş, announced recently at an opening ceremony of the Dörtyol Square in the district of Esenler, that he wanted to rename it to be ‘Rabia Square.’[29][30]

In Jordan, three protesters were arrested for carrying a version of the sign—an act, a Jordanian official said, "that would harm Jordanian relations with a brotherly Arab country."[31] Egyptian kung fu champion Mohamed Youssef appeared wearing a T-shirt with Rabia sign on it after winning the gold medal at the World Championship in Russia; which led to harsh criticism in the state-backed media and then a one-year ban by the national kung fu federation.[31] Egyptian Al Ahly footballer Ahmed Abd El-Zaher also celebrated one of his goals by making Rabia gesture, which led to subsequent suspension from upcoming FIFA Club World Cup.[4][32][33]

On 25 December 2013, the military-backed transitional government in Egypt officially classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, being the first Arab country to take such a decision. This was followed by considering Rabia sign a ‘terrorist’ sign. Egyptian security forces declared the intention of arresting whoever makes such a gesture or holds anything resembling it, in what is called by the government ‘the war on terrorism.’[4] A five-year penalty was announced for using the sign in social networks.[5] Consequently, several incidents of detention occurred: a 15-year-old boy was arrested for possessing a ruler and notebooks holding Rabia sign, and 21 women and girls were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for carrying balloons holding the sign.[32]

The sign became common not only among protesters of the Muslim Brotherhood or Islamists in general, but it has been considered to be a sign that indicates call for freedom and putting an end to dictatorships. German journalist Thorsten Gerald Schneiders said, ‘The symbol is already out of the Islamist spectrum, and has no relation with Islamic radicalism. Its meaning has extended to protesting against dictatorship and tyranny in general.’[34][35]


External video
Operette Kanit Ishara

A 14-minute operette called Kanit Ishara (Egyptian Arabic: كانت إشارة, pronounced [ˈkæːnɪt ʔɪˈʃɑːrɑh], ′It Was (Merely) a Sign′) was performed by 17 singers from 13 countries, expressing pride and appreciation for the sign and the opposition movement that is unified behind it. In order of appearance, the contributors are:

World Rabia Day poster

At the end of the operette, Wajdy Alaraby, an Egyptian public figure, says a brief word. Erdoğan appears as well in an external recording, making Rabia gesture.

World Rabia Day[edit]

The 14th of August was declared by international Rabia Platform as the "World Rabia Day".[36] The group said in a statement:[2]

We declare August 14 as the World Rabia Day in order not to forget the Rabia massacre and to support the pro-democracy struggle of Egyptians.

Opposing parody[edit]

The graphical sign of Rabia has faced a great amount of opposing parody, where it is manipulated in numerous satiric ways.[37][38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wedeman, Ben; Sayah, Reza; Smith, Matt (4 July 2013). "Coup topples Egypt's Morsy; deposed president under 'house arrest'". CNN. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Rabia Platform Declares August 14 'World Rabia Day'". Daily Sabah. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "'Rabaa sign' becomes the symbol of massacre in Egypt". Worldbulletin News. 18 August 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Egyptians Defiant Over Use of 'Rabaa' Symbol". Voice of America. 29 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Krause, Karoline (28 December 2013). ""Wir sind jetzt offiziell Terroristen": Die Jagd auf die Muslimbrüder". Kurier (in German). Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Erdogan salutes R4BIA". Haber Monıtör'de. 17 August 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "BBC in Egypt: 'People were not expecting this'". BBC News Online. 30 June 2013. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Michael, Maggie (28 June 2013). "From Egypt petition drive, a new grassroot wave". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  9. ^ Ezzat, Rawan (2 July 2013). "Ahmed Maher of 6 April Movement discusses current Egyptian situation". Daily News Egypt. 
  10. ^ El-Dabh, Basil (2 March 2013). "Al-Wafd repeats commitment to boycott". Daily News Egypt. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Ateyya, Ahmed (27 April 2013). "The 'S-Word': Egyptian Movement Takes On Islamic Rule". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  12. ^ El Masry, Sarah (21 April 2013). "My religion is "none of your business": Campaigning against division". Daily News Egypt. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Fayed, Shaimaa; Saleh, Yasmine (30 June 2013). "Millions flood Egypt's streets to demand Mursi quit". Reuters. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "New president: Egypt turns page to new era". CNN. 30 June 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  15. ^ Hubbard, Ben; Kirkpatrick, David D. (10 July 2013). "Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c "Egypt: Rab’a Killings Likely Crimes against Humanity". Human Rights Watch. 12 August 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  17. ^ Sly, Liz; Al-Hourani, Sharaf (15 August 2013). "Egypt authorizes use of live ammunition against pro-Morsi protesters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  18. ^ داوود, محمد طلعت; التهامى, عمرو (6 August 2013). "بلاغ رسمى: أسلحة كيماوية مهربة من سوريا فى "رابعة والنهضة" ". Al-Masry Al-Youm (in Arabic). Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  19. ^ Mohsen, Manar (16 August 2013). "Health Ministry raises death toll of Wednesday's clashes to 638". Daily News Egypt. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Egyptian forensic team says August raid on pro-Morsi camps killed 398". Ahram Online. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  21. ^ Hunter, Molly (16 August 2013). "Dozens More Killed on Egypt's 'Day of Rage'". ABC News. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  22. ^ El Wardany, Salma; Fam, Mariam; Galal, Ola (16 August 2013). "Egypt Brotherhood Torches Building as Death Toll Rises". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  23. ^ "Charred bodies lie in Cairo mosque, unrecognised by Egyptian state". Ahram Online. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  24. ^ Reynolds, James (15 August 2013). "Cairo offices torched as Egypt death toll mounts". BBC News Online. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Parvaz, D. (15 August 2013). "Smell of death lingers in Cairo's Iman mosque". Al Jazeera English. Archived from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c "How did R4BIA emerge?". R4BIA.com. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  27. ^ "ما هو التفسير الحقيقي لاشارة و كلمة R4BIA ؟". Emsek Felol (in Arabic). 25 August 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  28. ^ "كارثة..معني كلمة r4bia الرسالة الموجهة من الإخوان للغرب". Alnahar (in Arabic). 24 August 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  29. ^ "Fener-Star und Polat Alemdar solidarisieren sich mit ägyptischem Volk". Deutsch Türkisches Journal (in German). 19 August 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  30. ^ Serbest, Eyüp (20 August 2013). "Esenler Dörtyol, Rabia Meydanı olsun". Hürriyet (in Turkish). Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  31. ^ a b Kingsley, Patrick (29 October 2013). "Egypt kung fu champion suspended for wearing pro-Mohamed Morsi T-shirt". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  32. ^ a b Kingsley, Patrick (10 December 2013). "Egyptian boy arrested after teacher finds stationery with pro-Morsi symbol". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  33. ^ "Egyptian footballer Ahmed Abdel Zaher suspended for pro-Morsi salute". The Australian. 13 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  34. ^ Abelein, Christiane (15 January 2014). "R4BIA-SYMBOL: "EIN SKANDAL IST ES NICHT"". Prenzlauer Berg Nachrichten (in German). Archived from the original on 15 January 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  35. ^ "R4BIA - ZEICHEN HAT BEDEUTUNGSERWEITERUNG ERFAHREN - Teil 2 von "Ein Skandal ist das nicht"". Prenzlauer Berg Nachrichten (in German). 15 January 2014. Archived from the original on 15 January 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  36. ^ "Rabaa 'massacre' commemorated in Egypt and Turkey". Anadolu Agency. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  37. ^ Dalloul, Motasem A. (20 August 2013). "Rabaa and Nahda give birth to new victory sign". Middle East Monitor. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  38. ^ ربيعى, وائل; مجدى, مى (18 August 2013). "بالصور.. نشطاء "فيس بوك" يتداولون "كوميكس" ساخرة من إشارة رابعة العدوية". Cairodar (in Arabic). Retrieved 7 July 2014.