Dispatch

Saying UnSorry

Will Japan's new prime minister really take back his country's apology for World War II?

In late December, newly installed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he will revisit Japan's 1995 apology for the suffering the country wrought in Asia during World War II. That apology admitted that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced females, mostly from Korea, China, Japan, and the Philippines, known euphemistically as "comfort women," to work in brothels during the Japanese occupation. "This is entirely inexcusable," the prime minister at the time, Tomiichi Murayama, said in a statement. "I offer my profound apology to all those who, as wartime comfort women, suffered emotional and physical wounds that can never be closed."

The hawkish Abe, who has publicly and repeatedly denied that comfort women served Japanese soldiers against their will, is unrepentant about Japan's wartime behavior. In his best-selling book utsukushii kuni e (To a Beautiful Country), published during his previous term as prime minister in 2006, Abe even argued that Japanese war criminals convicted in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal were not guilty under Japanese law.

None of this has gone over well with the neighbors. South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye responded to Abe's remarks by saying that Japan "needed to come to terms with its colonial history," while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman urged Japan to "adopt a spirit of reflecting on history." On Jan. 4, an anti-Japanese protester stabbed himself in the stomach at Seoul's Kimpo Airport to protest the arrival of a special envoy dispatched by Abe to soothe ties between the two countries, while former comfort women, now in their 80s and 90s, continue to gather outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, as they have for decades, to demand even more contrition and reparations from Tokyo.

For the past few weeks, Abe has kept a low profile on the subject. He avoided mentioning it in his policy address to the Diet on Jan. 28, focusing mainly on domestic matters such as recovery and reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and escape from the "bog of deflation" that has plagued Japan in recent years. Few analysts, however, doubt the ultranationalist politician will eventually make good on his promise to unapologize.

Why is the Japanese apology such a big issue? The Japanese emperor surrendered on August 1945; Japanese officials have made an estimated 54 different apologies to Japan's Asian neighbors, including South Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines, since they began apologizing in 1957, in addition to paying more than $3 billion in reparations and surrendering more than $23 billion of government and private assets Japan held in the countries it occupied. (Japan never apologized or paid compensation to North Korea, however, because the two countries have never had formal diplomatic relations.) But from Japan's neighbors' perspective, it hasn't been enough -- and Abe's curious decision to re-open these old wounds has only heightened their sensitivity.

There are more than a dozen ways to apologize in Japanese, from sumimasen (after bumping into someone on the subway) to makoto ni moshiwake gozaimasen deshita (after spilling a drink on the Emperor at his annual garden party), and Japanese officials have likely tried them all, except for the dogeza, the ultimate form of apology, which consists of placing one's knees and forehead on the floor. Japanese officials, moreover, have generally avoided forthright admissions and actual use of the word "apologize" (shazai), to avoid angering right-wing supporters who don't want any admission of wrongdoing. Instead, they have resorted to generalities and terms like remorse, regret, sorrow, and self-reproach, which dance around the issue and minimize responsibility, similar in tone to the non-apologies often used by public figures in the United States, such as, "If my remarks offended anyone, I deeply regret it."

Apologies by prime ministers are often undone by offensive behavior by other Japanese politicians. In April 2005, then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed his "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for the suffering that Japan caused other Asian countries during World War II. Only hours before, however, 81 members of Japan's legislature, belonging to Koizumi's own party, had visited Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead are enshrined, prompting the Chinese Foreign Ministry to express its "strong dissatisfaction" over the "negative behavior" of Japan's politicians.

Most Japanese recognize that Japan did bad things before and during World War II. But they are also weary of the apology issue and complain that no matter how contrite their leaders are, Japan's Asian neighbors will find a way to blame them. In 2010, another Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" to South Koreans for Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula. This prompted complaints from Koreans that Japan did not admit the "illegality" of its occupation, while Chinese grumbled that Kan had chosen to ignore Japan's colonial history in China.

Taiwan, the Philippines, and Burma also suffered under Japanese rule. So why have South Korea and China been so much less willing to forget wartime injustices? Perhaps it's the scale of the crimes in question: Japan occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, imposed the Japanese language on its people, brutally repressed a rebellion, and brought hundreds of thousands of Koreans to Japan as forced labor. Japan occupied a huge swath of Chinese territory during and before World War II; in one particularly brutal period in December 1937, now known as the Rape of Nanking, the Japanese slaughtered as many as 300,000 Chinese.

But keeping the apology issue alive is also geopolitically convenient, especially for China. The controversy over Abe's unapology comes on the heels of a recent escalation of disputes between Japan and China, and between Japan and South Korea, over the ownership of uninhabited islands in the waters around the three countries. "I don't think that China or the Koreas are inclined to let Japan off the hook of history. It's way too convenient to keep Japan on its back heels diplomatically," Temple University professor and Japan expert Jeffrey Kingston told me.

Shinzo Abe, whose own grandfather was imprisoned for war crimes before going on to become prime minister in 1957, would no doubt agree with that. But before he creates any more tension, he had better focus on the reason voters elected him in the first place: his vow to fix the stagnant Japanese economy. If he doesn't do that, he may not be around long enough to unapologize to the rest of Asia.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

Dispatch

The Republic of Port Said

An insurrection along the Suez Canal represents the greatest threat yet to the Muslim Brotherhood's rule in Egypt.

PORT SAID, Egypt — On Jan. 28, thousands of Port Said residents broke the first night of President Mohamed Morsy's curfew with a raucous march that wound past the faded grandeur of the seafront's old buildings.

Families watched from balconies above the rain-soaked streets. They tossed bananas and lowered buckets of water by rope. Soldiers watched idly and chatted with protesters beside their armored personnel carriers. Marchers directed their chants at Morsy: "The curfew -- up your mother's!"

What began as a soccer rivalry between Cairo and this city of 600,000 at the mouth of the Suez Canal sparked a tragic stadium riot in February 2012 and has now grown into a miniature insurrection. After a court's decision to hand down 21 death sentences against Port Said soccer supporters for their role in the riot, outraged men allegedly rushed toward the prison and tried to shoot the inmates out, resulting in deaths on both sides.

The violent reaction has become the most critical test of Morsy's ability to steer the nation since his election last June, and the president declared a curfew and state of emergency along the entire Suez Canal in an effort to contain the unrest. But Morsy's attempt to restore order only highlighted his precarious control over Egypt and its institutions, and the canal cities reacted with outright defiance.

Mahmoud Kandil, a bespectacled accountant, filmed the protests on his phone.

"This is how Egyptians do a curfew," he shouted gleefully.

The celebration did not last. As the tail end of the march passed the quiet and debris-littered al-Arab police station, its interior unlit and its walls blackened by soot where angry mobs had thrown Molotov cocktails earlier in the day, rifle cracks echoed from its direction. Immediately, the louder, booming response of homemade pistols shattered the night. In a warren of shadowed market alleys crowded with awnings, fences, and covered merchandise stands, young men scurried in groups of three and four, trying to approach the source of gunfire.

The men gathered at the intersection of two alleys and peered around the corner. Several dozen feet away stood the station. Kandil sprinted across, then others followed. More shots rang out, and a man came careening back around the corner.

He clutched his head, his eyes wide: "Someone died! We have to help him! There's someone dead!"

Young men bunched at the opposite corner, trying to see. One clutched a pistol with two hands, held it by his thigh, leaned into the alley, and fired a blast at the station.

Osama Sherbini, a 21-year-old commerce student, had been shot through the neck. Mohammed Assi, one of the protesters who had rushed across the intersection, said he saw a man hiding behind a metal kiosk fall to the ground, ricocheting bullets sparking around his body. He was dead before he reached one of the city's hospitals.

Sherbini was not the only casualty that night. Another man reportedly died while being taken to receive better care in the city of Zagazig, along the ill-maintained highway, and a third was fatally shot in the pelvis. The three days of fighting claimed at least 45 lives.

The crisis began with what could have been mistaken for a provincial dispute: Families were outraged after a court sentenced their local soccer fans to death on Jan. 26. But it also pulled back the curtain on a state that seemed suddenly and stunningly absent.

In the aftermath of the riots, police all but abandoned the streets. Businessmen said trade in fuel and other goods nearly shut down, as did the city's ports. Army APCs took positions outside the governorate administration building, the port, and the main power station -- but the military refused to crack down on protesters. Residents openly defied Morsy's edicts and cursed his Muslim Brotherhood. Akram el-Shaer, a once-popular local politician elected to parliament under the Brotherhood's banner, went underground with his family. His second-floor office at a busy intersection was abandoned and its windows broken.

Indeed, it was hard to find evidence that Morsy's government had any power.

"The authorities have lifted their hand," said Adel, a police lieutenant colonel drinking coffee outside an empty hotel on Tuesday morning, his log book open on the table. "There is no state."

Adel, a top detective, had joined the curfew-breaking march the previous night. He said that police, such as those who had remained inside al-Arab station, had been left with orders to respond in kind to protesters. If the protesters threw rocks, they would shoot tear gas and birdshot; if the protesters fired guns, they were instructed to fire back.

"[The authorities] are sitting in their houses, waiting to cash their salaries at the end of the month, without taking any action toward the disintegration of the town, leaving people to the chaos," he complained.

In Port Said, the blame for this state of affairs was placed squarely on Morsy. The city has never been friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood: Today, it is still possible to glimpse a portrait of Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president, spread across the awning of a balcony along a main road into the city.

In November 2011, during the post-revolution parliamentary elections that were dominated nationally by the Brotherhood, Port Said split its votes between the Islamists and the newer, more secular parties. Last May, in the crowded first round of the presidential election, residents overwhelmingly voted for charismatic socialist Hamdeen Sabahi, and Morsy came in third. In June, when the choice narrowed in the second round to Morsy or Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's controversial last prime minister, Port Said chose Shafiq.

Many residents still revere former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who lavished Port Said with praise after its citizens fought guerrilla battles against the forces of Israel, France, and Britain during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, when the regional powers attempted to reverse Nasser's nationalization of the canal. Banners in the city these days read "justice for the descendants of '56, or chaos for the nation."

But the glory days have long past. Buildings that survived the 1956 war are falling apart, and local pride has been tempered by decades of disregard. As in much of Egypt, income disparity is extreme. The head of the regional electricity company may take in as much as two million pounds in salary and benefits every month, or roughly $300,000, while one of his accountants earns $300, an employee lamented. Nepotism is a sanctioned business practice, while firing an employee must be approved at the highest levels, where there is often government or military control.

Residents, who see their city and its ports as one of Egypt's largest sources of income, said they have received little recompense, fueling resentment toward the central government. These simmering grievances came to a bloody climax after the death sentences were announced.

Adel Shehata, the father of one of the defendants in the stadium riot case, used the same language to explain his disappointment as he sat in a café near the deserted seaside promenade, a few blocks from the stadium.

"The revolution didn't start to overthrow Mubarak, it started with demands for bread, freedom, and dignity, raised by the neglect of the regime," he said. "And Morsy is taking the same course."

Shehata wears a long gray beard and buzzed hair cut in the style of strict Salafi Muslims but said he was a longstanding member of the Wafd, Egypt's storied, secular opposition party. Still, he said he voted for Morsy in the second round of the election because he could not bear to see Shafiq, the very symbol of Mubarak's regime, put into power.

In Port Said, as elsewhere in Egypt, soccer rivalries are often as bitterly contested as political battles. Shehata and his 21-year-old son Mohammed are loyal fans of the city's top club, al-Masry, known as the Green Eagles. Mohammed is known by his nickname, Hummus, given for his resemblance to a player from the top club in Ismailia -- a canal city to the south, also under a state of emergency -- who goes by the same name. Shehata, an industrial skills teacher at a preparatory school, is known as Abu Hummus -- the father of Hummus.

With a group of friends, Shehata and his son formed a cheering section they called the Super Greens. On Feb. 1, 2012, the night of the disaster, Shehata said the Super Greens left immediately after his team's surprising 3-1 victory against Cairo's al-Ahly club and watched the ensuing chaos, during which hundreds of people in al-Masry's stands brutally attacked the Ahly fans, on television at a café.

Hummus was arrested soon afterward and charged, along with 71 others. His lawyer, Ashraf el-Ezeby, who represents eight al-Masry fans, the stadium's lighting technician, and the club's manager and security chief, said police have no evidence of Hummus's participation and arrested him only because he is a particularly well-known supporter of the club. Relatives of other defendants have told similar stories of baseless arrests.

On Saturday, Hummus and 20 other defendants were sentenced to death -- more than the total number of death sentences imposed in the hundreds of cases that have been filed against police accused of killing protesters during the revolution. In the days before the sentencing, Shehata and other relatives of the defendants held a sit-in near Port Said's prison and shouted back and forth with their sons through the prison windows, he said. Lawyers had assured the families that their sons would be found not guilty.

Following the verdict, these families attempted to storm the prison -- video of the incident shows men in the crowd with AK-47s firing toward the walls. Two police officers were killed in the first minutes of the fighting, and guards returned fire. In the ensuing battle, 33 people died. The next day, as demonstrations at the prison continued, seven more people were killed, including a man shot while sitting among the crowd in the street in his wheelchair.

Shehata, Ezeby, and other Port Said residents refuse to believe that the defendants' families were carrying weapons. Most of those at the sit-in were women and the elderly, and guns had been forbidden, Shehata said. Police said they recovered four automatic weapons and 10 shotguns from the 14 people they arrested after the attacks. Shehata and others claimed that outsiders who sensed a chance to free their own relatives from the prison must have snuck in.

Mohammed el-Aqtash, a 35-year-old electrical engineer for the Suez Canal Authority and local coordinator for Sabahi's movement, agreed.

"There was a simultaneous attack on the prison, a police station, a courthouse, water and electricity stations, and then two more police stations," said Aqtash. "It couldn't have been the families."

To Port Saidis, the city had been "sold" to placate the wealthier, more influential, and more dangerous Cairo fan base, some of whom had blocked metro lines and busy thoroughfares in the capital, threatening chaos if the case didn't go their way. The verdict was further proof of Port Said's marginalization, though the city did not need any: Across the street from Mariam Mosque, where the bodies of the dead were carried for prayers before their burial, stood Suleimani Hospital, considered the city's best. It was not a project of the government but of a charitable local engineer, Mohamed Ali Suleiman, who had solicited public donations to build it.

Morsy's public remarks have been singularly unhelpful in quelling the anger of the city's residents. The president appeared on television on Jan. 27 to announce the state of emergency, wagging his finger in paternal disapproval. He thanked the hated police, ordered the interior minister to act with "all force and decisiveness," and, most maddeningly to Port Saidis, declared that court rulings should be respected, as they are "not biased."

Residents found the latter admonition darkly ironic, since it was Morsy who had issued a Nov. 22 edict placing himself above judicial review in order to finish the constitution in the face of a nearly total opposition walkout. It was also the Brotherhood and other Islamists who then surrounded the High Constitutional Court with a sit-in protest, effectively preventing the judges from convening to rule on the legality of Morsy's decision.

"It shows that Egypt is lost, Egypt is gone, and the president of Egypt, he is the first to violate and ignore the verdicts of the courts," Shehata said.

With trust in Morsy, the police, and the courts evaporated, many Port Saidis feel they must fend for themselves. Even the army seems unable to do its job: As the gun battle erupted around al-Arab police station on Jan. 28, a command SUV and troop truck first drove toward the fighting then quickly turned around and left, even as a young man ran to the SUV's window and pleaded for the officer and his men to stay. A handful of APCs are now all that stands between the aggrieved crowds and some of the most important facilities in the country.

"If something goes wrong in the street today, who do you go to for help?" asked Hisham Salama, the general director of the city's hulking east port, as he sat in an upscale café near the canal, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee with friends. With his port doing little work because of the crisis, he had time to kill.

Salama served as chief judge of the regional military command's court system and spent 16 years in the military intelligence service, he said. Like many experienced military men, he had subsequently been eased into a well-paying executive position at a strategic state institution. He still kept his hair and mustache closely cropped, but now he wore a long black coat over a pale blue dress shirt and tie, with a large watch on one wrist and a bracelet on the other.

Salama said the military should have already intervened in the country's politics, but that the top officers, recently moved into command after Morsy orchestrated the departure of long-serving commander-in-chief Hussein Tantawi and his chief of staff, were hesitant and less experienced. On Jan. 29, Defense Minister Abdelfattah al-Sisi signaled such an intervention remained possible, warning of the "collapse of the state" if the crisis enveloping Port Said, Cairo, and other cities continued.

Salama's real fear, he said, was that Morsy and his allies were intent on "Brotherhoodizing" the country, removing old executives with ties to Mubarak's regime and promoting low-ranking, Islamist-friendly staff throughout state ministries to tighten their grip on power. He and other business leaders from the Canal Zone had recently been brought before parliament's transportation and national security committees, he said, where they were asked why their positions always seemed to be handed to military men. It seemed, Salama thought, that the Brotherhood wanted to extend its reach over the profit-making canal.

Like other Port Saidis, however, Salama was not about to go quietly.

"The current administration has no background in the financial or political situation in the country," he said. "These people have spent almost 60 years being jailed and held captive but have no experience whatsoever in how to run and manage a country. The new regime should have built trust between itself and the people after the elections, but now that trust is gone."

STR/AFP/Getty Images