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Time Magazine photo

Dane – Yuji, did you hear the news about Egypt?

Yuji – Yeah, I saw a lot of big demonstrations on TV.

Dane – Demonstrations? That’s too mild. What we’re seeing in Egypt are protests and riots and possibly the beginning of a revolt against the government that could end in a long rebellion or even a real revolution.

Yuji – Demonstrations, protests, riots, revolt, rebellion, revolution? What’s the difference?

Dane – Demonstration sounds milder; people demonstrate for or against any political issue. Some Japanese demonstrated against the Chinese action at Senkaku Island.

Yuji – So, how’s that different from a protest?

Dane – A protest usually targets a specific political or social issue and is more likely to be violent.

Yuji – And a riot?

Dane – A riot is when a mob of people becomes violent and starts burning and looting. There were riots in Los Angeles after the TV news showed some cops beating up a black guy for no apparent reason.

Yuji – There was a lot of burning and looting in Cairo.

Dane – Yes, but the Egyptian people aren’t just demanding the government make some changes; their protests and riots are aimed directly at overthrowing the government.

Yuji – And that is a revolt.

Dane – Yes. If the fight drags on for a long time or fails, we often use the word rebellion.

Yuji – And what if they do bring the government down.

Dane – Then you have a revolution.

Yuji – I can’t really blame them. This guy Mubarak sounds like a real dictator. He’s been president for thirty years!

Dane – Yeah, that must be real hard for Japanese to understand with your revolving door prime ministers! Actually, president isn’t really the right word to describe Mubarak.

Yuji – But the media says he’s the president.

Dane – What’s your definition of a president?

Yuji – A national leader who is chosen by the people in an election.

Dane – Mubarak wasn’t chosen by the people, he was hand picked by the previous president, Anwar Sadat.

Yuji – Don’t they have elections in Egypt?

Dane – Well, kind of, but they’re completely controlled by the government. So, yes his official title is president, but that’s not an accurate description of his position.

Yuji – So he’s more like a king.

Dane – Right. But since we’re talking about Egypt, maybe pharaoh would be a better title. Actually, they did have two real kings from 1922 to 1952.

Yuji – What happened to the king?

Dane – The people thought he was a puppet of the British who controlled Egypt for about 100 years. The army led a revolution in 1952 and replaced the monarchy with a republic in 1953.

Yuji – Well, if they made a republic, they must have had a president.

Dane – The revolution was led by a junta of army officers. General Naquib became the first president but a year later he was forced out by his comrade, Gamal Abdal Nasser.

Yuji – Nasser? Isn’t he the guy who took the Suez Canal away from the French and British.

Dane – That’s him. And after that he invited the Soviet Union into the country.

Yuji – That must have really made the Americans mad.

Dane – Yeah, we didn’t talk to them till 1970 when Nasser died of a heart attack and his number two man, Anwar Sadat, took over.

Yuji – Sadat was a good guy, wasn’t he?

Dane – For the U.S., yes. He kicked the Soviets out and then signed a peace treaty with the Israelis.

Yuji – So he was a popular president?

Dane –In the West yes, but not among the Arab countries. In fact, one of his own body guards shot him in 1981.

Yuji – And that’s when his buddy, Mubarak took over, right?

Dane – Right. So, Mubarak has been a dictator for 30 years, and actually the same military junta has ruled the country since 1953.

Yuji – Sounds like Burma, Myanmar.

Dane – Exactly. The big difference is that this company of despots has made cozy deals with the U.S.A.

Yuji – So that’s why Obama has been so careful in talking about the trouble in Egypt.

Dane – Well, that and the question of who is going to take over if there is a revolution.

Yuji – I heard that Nobel Peace laureate ElBaradei is in charge of the opposition.

Dane – He is trying to organize the protestors but he is not really in charge of anything yet.

Yuji – Who else could take charge?

Dane – The Muslim Brotherhood.

Yuji – Who are they?

Dane – A secret Islamist society that started in 1928 to oppose the British and has since become one of the most important opposition groups in Islam.

Yuji – Are they anything like Al Qaeda?

Dane – Yes, kind of. Bin Laden borrowed a lot of ideas from the Muslim Brotherhood. Their goal is to replace the secular government with an Islamic system under Sharia law.

Yuji – Are they as bad as Al Qaeda?

Dane – They say they want a nonviolent revolution.

Yuji – Is that possible?

Dane – Well, they seem to have done that in Tunisia, but there’s more at stake in Egypt.

Yuji – What do you mean?

Dane – Egypt is one of the most important countries in the region. Everyone is involved and any of them might decide to fight to the bloody end.

Yuji – Everyone? Like who?

Dane – Islamist militants, other Arab countries, the U.S. and E.U., the Russians, and maybe even the Chinese.

Yuji – The Chinese? You’re kidding!

Dane – Well, the Chinese are all over the place in other parts of Africa. Besides that, they have the advantage of not being one of the former colonial masters that the Arabs blame for all their troubles.

Yuji  – At least Japan’s not involved.

Dane – Oh no? Who’s Japan’s big brother?

Yuji – America.

Dane – And who do most Egyptians blame for keeping Mubarak in power for so long?

Yuji –America?

Dane – Exactly. Besides that, where does most of Japan’s oil come from?

Yuji – Egypt?

Dane – No, Egypt is not a major oil producing nation, but it is a key nation in the heart of the oil producing Middle East.

Yuji – And any trouble there directly affects Japan’s supply of oil.

Dane – Yes, seriously – it could even cut it off completely.

Yuji – Does that mean we should try to help this dictator Mubarak?

Dane – No. We should have tried to push Mubarak out years ago and support a moderate opposition leader like ElBaradei.

Yuji – Didn’t Obama say he supported democratic movements in his big speech in Cairo two years ago?

Dane – Yes. Now it’s time for him to live up to his word – even if it risks a radical Muslim takeover. If he doesn’t support this democratic uprising now, the U.S. will be blamed once again for keeping the Muslim people under the rule of monstrous dictators.

Yuji – OK. But I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be like Iran in 1979.

Dane – I’ll take hope over despair any day!