Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Rohingya and the Burmese Generals:
Forge a Democracy and Get Away with It
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 20, 2015
|Rohingya Muslim refugees
fleeing persecution in Maynmar, amidst silence of the Western
Writing in the New York Times in an article entitled, "Myanmar
Generals Set the State for Their Own Exit", Thomas Fuller expressed
his and the media's failure to recognize the total fraud that is Burmese
“The official results are still being tabulated,” he
wrote, “but all signs, so far, point to that rarest of things: an
authoritarian government peacefully giving up power after what outside
election monitors have deemed a credible vote.”
Fuller, who said
nothing about the persecuted Rohingya minority and little about the other
millions of Burmese who were denied the chance to vote, only managed to
contribute to the seemingly baffling media euphoria about the country’s
Reporting from Burma – also known as Myanmar
McLaughlin dealt with the Rohingya subject directly; however, he
offered a misleading sentiment that the oppressed minority, which was
excluded from the vote, can see a ‘glimmer of hope’ in the outcome of the
According to results, the National League for
Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, has won a
stunning victory over its rivals in the ruling party, by garnering 348
seats, in contrast with only 40 seats obtained by the military-controlled
party that has ruled Burma since 1962.
There is no real basis
for that supposed ‘glimmer of hope’, aside from a non-binding statement
made by an NLD official, Win Htein, that the Citizenship Act of 1982 “must
be reviewed” – an Act which served as the basis for discrimination
against the Rohingya.
Win Htein’s comments are disingenuous, let
alone non-committal, at best. The Citizenship Act “must be reviewed
because it is too extreme... review that law and make necessary amendments
so that we consider those people who are already in our country, maybe
second generation, so they will be considered as citizens," he told
Reuters. His comments promote the myth that the well over one million
Rohingya are ‘Bengalis”, who came to his Burma only recently as hapless
While Burma, like any other ASEAN country has its
fair share of immigrants, the fact is that most Rohingya Muslims are
native to the state of "Rohang" (originally a kingdom in itself),
officially known as Rakhine or Arakan. Over the years, especially in the
late 19th century and early 20th century, the original inhabitants of
Arakan were joined by cheap or forced labor from Bengal and India, who
permanently settled there.
For decades, tension has brewed
between Buddhists and Muslims in the region. Eventually, the majority,
backed by a military junta, prevailed over the minority which had no
serious regional or international backers. A rising tide of Buddhist
nationalism has reached genocidal levels in recent years and is targeting
not only Rohingya Muslims, but also Christian
and other minority groups in the country.
population of Arakan, estimated at nearly 800,000, subsist between the
nightmare of having no legal status (as they are still denied
citizenship), little or no rights and the occasional ethnic purges carried
out by their neighbors. While Buddhists also paid a price for the
stateless Rohingya, being isolated and defenseless, were the ones to
carry the heaviest death toll and destruction.
Writing in the
Ahmed cited alarming new findings conducted last October by the
International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University in
London, which “found that the Rohingya ..face ‘the final stages of a
genocidal process’.” “Leaked government documents show that plans to
inflict ‘mass annihilation’ have been prepared at the highest levels,” he
Not only did the elections disempower and further
alienate the Rohingya, but it also empowered political groups that have
openly sought the ‘mass annihilation’ of the defenseless minority, most of
whom are living in abject poverty within closed refugee camps, while
thousands have perished at sea in a bid to escape the violence.
One of these nationalist groups is the Arakan National Party (ANP), which
has incited and enacted violent pogroms against the Rohingya for years. In
fact, ethnically cleansing the Rohingya is a main rally cry for a group
which now has a democratically elected 29 national level representatives
in Rakhine, and is also in “decisive control of the state's regional
The sad fact is that much of the reporting on
the Burmese elections stoked false hope that a democracy has finally
prevailed in that country, and either brushed over or completely ignored
the plight of the Rohingya altogether.
But how could anyone with
a reasonable degree of knowledge in the political, constitutional and
historical context of the November elections ignore the major
discrepancies of the army-championed style of “Discipline
Flourishing Democracy” program announced in August 2003 by General
Burma’s generals have organized every facet of
democratic campaign since the early 1990s so that they give an
illusion of democracy, while retaining power.
When the outcome
of the 1990 elections did not work in their favor, they crushed their
opponents and placed the leaders of the NLD under house-arrests or prison.
This action, however, cost them international isolation outside the domain
of China and a few ASEAN countries.
For years, the generals
learned how to craft a system that would allow them to rule the country,
while making symbolic gestures to meet the west’s half-hearted condition
of democratization and pluralism.
The most recent elections have
been, by far, the most successful of the generals’ democracy schemes in
recent years. This clever scheme is rooted partly in the 2008
Constitution, “which elevates core interests of the military (such as
the military budget, appointments, business conglomerates and security
matters) above the law and parliamentary oversight,” wrote
Maung Zarni in the Guardian.
According to the controversial
constitution, “the military serves as the ultimate custodian with the
power to discipline any
elected government or MP who dares to stray from the military’s chosen
path and its definition of parliamentary democracy,” Zarni wrote.
In fact, just last June, the military, defeated
an attempt by parliamentarians to rescind its veto power. This is why
the military remains the upper hand in the country, regardless of who wins
or loses the elections. By reserving for itself a quarter of the seats in
parliament, the military will continue to enjoy a veto power.
Then, why is there all this excitement about Burmese democracy? Simple -
the rivalry between China and the United States, and their respective
allies have reached a point where the massive amount of untapped wealth of
oil and natural gas in Burma can no longer be ignored.
UK and other countries are salivating at the limitless potential of
economic opportunities in that country, estimated at “3.2 billion barrels
of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.” According
to a UK government report, under the theme, a ‘hotspot for
exploration,” Burma’s “unproven resources may be vastly greater.”
With Burma climbing to the world top five countries in terms of proven oil
and gas reserves, terms such as genocides, military juntas and human
rights are abruptly and largely omitted from the new discourse.
Indeed, a whole new narrative is being conveniently drafted, written
jointly by the Burmese army, nationalist parties, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD,
western investors and anyone else who stands to benefit from the treasures
of one of the world’s worst human rights violators.
– Dr. Ramzy
Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.
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