Will the new Myanmar include the Rohingya?

Will the new Myanmar include the Rohingya?
3 min read
28 May, 2021
The Rohingya remain central to the next swing of Myanmar’s political pendulum. But their role in the country's future is anything but clear.
Police stand guard on a barricaded road outside the Yangon City Hall (R) and Sule Pagoda (C) in Yangon on 16 February, 2021. [Getty]

Myanmar is a place I once called home. My recent return to London has been steeped in sadness, helplessness, and a feeling that I may never revisit a place where the path of democracy was being paved.  

I am very fortunate to have travelled to Myanmar in February to visit my partner, who currently resides in Yangon. I experienced an incredibly beautiful, rich, and complex society that was being dragged into sudden political turmoil. I watched in horror from our downtown balcony as the brutal military junta, led by Min Aung Hlaing, threw the country back into darkness with a farcical coup that was to send shock waves throughout Myanmar and the world. 

In the days following the February coup, people gathered in their thousands, from all walks of life, protesting in fear of the return of the nefarious military dictatorship that had engulfed vast areas of the country not so long ago. The nonsensical military upheaval echoed the trauma of the Tatmadaw’s 26-year military rule, and the terror, violence, and submission that was used to crush dissent and freedom of speech. 

As a result of the military takeover, Daw Aung San Suu Kyyi was put under house arrest, yet again, along with a number of prominent NLD party members, while many others were forced into exile. What struck me during those early days was the unconditional adoration for “The Lady” among the protesting crowds; Suu Kyyi’s face adorning the streets of Yangon on placards, t-shirts, and demonstrators’ faces. While not all protesters adopted such adulation, this sense of “idolisation” was unsettling, and my mind wandered to the Rohingya and their plight.

"I watched in horror from our downtown balcony as the brutal military junta, threw the country back into darkness"

Etched in my consciousness was the Tatmadaw’s horrifying ethnic and religious persecution of 2017, that saw Rohingya villages in Rakhine State burned to the ground, thousands murdered, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.  

The silence of Aung San Suu Kyyi and a sector of the Burmese general public was deafening. While western media had been quick to canonise and idolise Suu Kyyi, they failed to recognise the fact she was just a political survivor who really did not have much choice but to go along with military orders.  

Nearly four months since the onset of the coup, the issue of the Rohingya people is an ever salient one, and the role they play in the future of Myanmar is very much undetermined.  

Since the overthrow of the democratically elected National Defence League and ASSK, boycotts and strikes by the Civil Disobedience Movement have spread across the country. The legislative body (CRPH) - made up of mainly deposed NLD MPs - has been formed in exile, as has the National Unity Government (NUG), which aims to consolidate power among the various ethnic groups that make up Myanmar’s rich, yet bruised social fabric. 

Thousands gather in Sule Square protesting the announcement of a military coup, 2 February, 2021. [TNA]
Thousands gather in Sule Square protesting the announcement of a military coup, 2 February, 2021. [Nina Wolfe / TNA]

As these groups vie for international support to overthrow the military junta by announcing a host of concessions and promoting federal democracy, it begs the question - if they do indeed regain power from the military regime, will they honour these promises and take a more progressive and inclusive approach? Will they absorb Rohingya grievances and secure a place for them at the decision-making table?  

In recent months, encouraging statements from the NUG and CRPH have emerged, expressing a sense of remorse for not speaking out against the atrocious crimes committed against the Muslim community and the Rohingya people during the ethnic cleansing of 2017, but also for the decades of discrimination community leaders suffered prior.  

Regretful sentiments have also materialised on social media, where we have witnessed a surge in Burmese individuals joining together to express shame in their passivity regarding these brutal military practices. 

"Will they absorb Rohingya grievances and secure a place for them at the decision-making table?"

Similarly, the Tatmadaw have reached out to Muslim leaders in Rakhine state, offering an olive branch by donating to mosques and promising the return of Rohingya to their villages return for support and a gesture to show to the international community their credibility and legitimacy.  

The Rohingya remain central to the next swing of Myanmar’s political pendulum. One wonders if the NUG and CRPH’s efforts to include the Rohingya issue into their policies are a genuine force for good, or simply part of a political calculus to drum up support from the international community.  

The idealist in me hopes and prays that the former option will prevail, and the Rohingya people will be issued citizenship, dignity, and repatriation for the suffering they continue to endure.  

This author is writing under a pseudonym in order to protect their identity when visiting South-East Asia / Myanmar.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.