Hundreds of protesters held a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, for those killed in the protests over the last 21 days. Across the nation, pro-democracy demonstrators continued to oppose the military coup, holding photographs of jailed leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and imploring the U.N. to do more. Rudabeh Shahid, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Canter joins for more.
For more on what is driving the protests in Myanmar and the military coup I spoke with Rudabeh Shahid, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center.
I began by asking about the most recent demonstrations.
At this point in time, what's happening is that in Myanmar, a lot of people are without the internet from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. and during that time, a lot of people are detained, including NLD leaders, then a lot of– a lot of filmmakers and civil rights activists.
People have found very interesting ways to protest during the day when the internet comes back on. For example, they are blocking the roads and then they're banging pots going on for the past few days.
Who is deciding to stand up to the military junta?
So it's a very interesting situation. So, you know, at this point in time, we have all kinds of people joining the protests who are not part of the military. So any civilian. So doctors, engineers, teachers.
And this is kind of unprecedented. The military did not see this coming. The last time this happened, by the way, was in 1988. And this was a very big movement against the military dictatorship. And obviously, that did not go well. And it was crushed very badly. But one thing that emerged from that movement was, you know, the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. So maybe the youth of Myanmar at this point, they're getting, you know, this opportunity to mobilize and they'll come up with another political party or at least another political movement that would be challenging the military. And it seems like every activist and people who were not even, you know, part of politics remotely, they are all joining these protests. So it's a very interesting situation that we had at this point in time.
One of the populations that a lot of us focused on a year and a half ago or so were the Rohingya and what was happening to them as they were being expelled, as they were crossing the border into Bangladesh. I know you've visited some of the camps where they live now. What is their status as the country goes through this upheaval?
It's a very interesting situation now. So the Rohingya, as we know, they're originally from this western state in Myanmar called Rakhine about 1.1 – 1 million people, Rohingya are in Bangladesh and of them, 700,000 came in 2017 with the military crackdown in the Rakhine province. However, there are a few Rohingya still remaining in the Rakhine province, about half a million.
Do they feel like if Aung San Suu Kyi is released, if she is able to take power, that their plight will improve?
Initially, when she ran for office, the Rohingya were overwhelmingly supportive of the NLD, her party. But that was very disappointing because this genocide that happened in 2017 was under the NLD, if we look at it that way.
But the problem at this point in time is that it's not like the military dictatorship is better in a sense. And there was some kind of a power sharing for the longest time even, you know, with the restoration of democracy. So in a sense, not just the Rohingya, but all the ethnic minorities in Burma are very supportive of democracy. And they were the people who suffered the most under the military dictatorship of about half a century. They're very cautious, I guess, but, you know of Aung San Suu Kyi at this point in time. But that's probably the best bet that they have.
Rudabeh Shahid, the nonresident senior fellow at the South Asian Center at the Atlantic Council. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you, Hari.
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