Do Egyptians Play Baseball?

And other questions loosely related to the Cairo protests.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Egyptian protests.

An Egyptian soldier prays with protesters

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has replaced his Cabinet and promised not to run for re-election, but protesters continue to demand his resignation. The uprising raises a slew of questions for the Explainer.

Some Egyptian protesters  are carrying baseball bats, according to various reports. Is baseball popular in Egypt?

No. Egyptians may have been the  first to play a game resembling baseball, which they called “saker-hemat” (“batting the ball”) in the 15th century B.C., but the sport has a minimal presence, if any, in modern Egypt. The country didn’t appear on the International Baseball Federation’s  2010 world rankings. And the country has never competed in the  Summer Olympics’ baseball tournament. It’s telling that the most famous baseball game played in Egypt pitted the Chicago White Stockings against an all-star team called All-Americas  in front of the pyramids. The game, part of Albert Spalding’s world exhibition tour of 1888 and 1889, occurred between stops in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and Italy. There haven’t been any Egyptian-born players in the history of Major League Baseball, but Spalding’s All-Americas did field a pitcher known as “The Egyptian“—  John Healy, who was born in Cairo, Ill.

So where are protesters getting the bats? It’s difficult to say. CNN’s Ben Wedeman  tweeted from Cairo: “Just saw blue fiat entering main tv building in Maspiro when guards opened trunk, full of baseball bats.” It’s also possible that these supposed baseball bats are actually just long, tapered sticks, like those in  this photograph.

Some  media outlets  report that Egyptian riot police fired “rubber-coated bullets” on protesters, while  others  refer simply to “rubber bullets.” Are they talking about the same thing?

Probably. As  Emily Yoffe explained  in 2000, “Rubber bullets describe about 75 types of ‘less than lethal’ devices that are designed to deliver a stinging blow that incapacitates but does not kill or penetrate flesh as do regular metal bullets.” The umbrella term covers rounds made entirely from rubber as well as steel bullets covered with rubber.

Design intentions aside, rubber bullets can indeed be deadly, especially if fired at close range. In Northern Ireland during the 1970s, British forces fired more than 55,000 rubber bullets. About 1 in 18,000 rounds killed someone, and about 1 in 1,100 rounds caused serious injury. Researchers who  analyzed the medical records of 152 people injured by rubber bullets during the Israeli-Arab conflict of October 2000 found that shots to the face and chest were most likely to penetrate the body. Shots to the lower abdomen, back, and limbs—where tissues are the most elastic—were among the least likely to penetrate.

Though Egyptian officials insist that the Suez Canal will remain open, onlookers are concerned that the protests could disrupt the waterway—which connects the Red and Mediterranean seas—and roil oil markets. What else, besides oil, gets shipped through the Suez?

A lot. Oil tankers account for only about 10 percent of the canal’s traffic. Another 50 percent comes from container ships, which usually carry so-called “finished goods” like televisions and clothes. Other traffic comes from “dry bulk” ships, which carry grain, coal, and other forms of loose cargo, as well as from ships carrying liquefied natural and petroleum gas.

The Explainer thanks Tom Zeiler of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Natasha Boyden of Cantor Fitzgerald. Explainer also thanks reader Beirne Konarski for asking the baseball question.

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