Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


February 20, 2011

Please forward.

There are now popular protests all across the Middle East, including in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Syria. Further afield, there are protests in Albania, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Haiti, and elsewhere.

Almost uniformly, the protests are pro-democracy. The goal is to force out tyrannical rulers, and through this to obtain freedom and human rights.

The protests so far have been successful in Tunisia and Eqypt, where Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were driven out. It is likely that these successes will be duplicated in other countries in the weeks and months ahead. Popular pressure has been unleashed. The genie is out of the bottle.

The dictators of the world are scared. They are engaging in a variety of defensive actions, starting with trying to control the flow of information. Given the impact of new communication technologies, though, probably the only place where this will work is North Korea. Because of this, and also their own nature, their preference has been for the old standby, physical force: attacking and killing the demonstrators.

This is an effective tactic, but as was evident in Eqypt, it will not work if the public is determined. There is power in numbers. Also helping the Egyptians, of course, was the restraint of the military. The violence in Cairo and elsewhere was committed by the usual internal suppression apparatus: the police and their hired thugs.

The rest of the world stood by and watched. Nations in Europe, and the United States, are so interconnected by business now with tyrants across the globe that their initial response was to back them - not the people. This holds with the United Nations Secretariat as well. Only after the media started asking questions did leaders such as Secretary Clinton and President Obama actually begin to support the protestors.

What a pathetic reaction! History will not be kind!

One place where you would expect protests is Burma. The rulers of the country, the generals of the SPDC military junta, are among the most repressive in the world. The overall level of subjugation is extreme, and ethnic cleansing is being committed against minority groups. The theft of Burma's natural resources by the junta, its cronies, and their international partners, is also so severe that it is in the first tier, financially, of worldwide corruption.

It is therefore a surprise that there have not been any demonstrations in the country.

The title of this statement is not solely rhetorical. It is a legitimate question. As a long-time Burma analyst and activist, I personally do not understand the popular inaction. Obviously there is fear, and a multitude of other factors. But still, one would expect some sort of response.

The crackdown on the Saffron Uprising in 2007 only occurred after the junta was able to bring troops from border areas to Rangoon. The local commanders did not want to fire on the protestors. It has also been revealed that some leading generals opposed the crackdown.

There is significant dissent and factionalism within the junta. Really, everyone is positioning for power in advance of the demise of the top general, the dictator of Burma, Than Shwe. There is good reason to believe that the regime's response to renewed demonstrations would be muted, particularly in light of the precedent set by the Egyptian military.

In addition, a new crackdown would end the hesitancy to launch war crimes prosecution against the SPDC.

Right now, the resistance groups in Burma are working to establish a federal army. The generals have already exhibited an inability to move against them singly. As a coordinated front, they will become much more powerful.

This action needs a broad public counterpoint. Renewed dissent can prevail. There is no need to be obsessed with the SPDC's puppet Parliament, to try to work within the system including through legal maneuvers. Revolution is in the air. The world is changing. Now is the time to take to the streets.

As an update to 2007, however, the Burmese should avoid marches. As the protestors in Egypt illustrated, it is better to choose a central location, with many access points and surrounded by buildings for video documentation, to rally and defend. In Rangoon, one such area is Bandoola Square.

The generals can hide in Naypyidaw, but their rule will be a sham once the people of Burma control Rangoon. There will then be a coup against Than Shwe, or he and his family will flee to China or Singapore. The people of Burma will be through with the likes of Thandar Shwe, Kyaing Kyaing, and Tayza!

Burma is one front in what is developing into a global pro-democracy showdown. In country after country, the people have had enough and the fight is on. In some it will be more prolonged than in others. In all, there will be sacrifices. Democracy has a cost. The secret is to know when to spend it. That time is now.