Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert

More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s. (AFP)
More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert

Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert
  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim unpacked coup’s implications for marginalized minority during an Arab News Research & Studies Unit webinar
  • More than a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country since the early 1990s

LONDON: Four years have passed since Myanmar’s military crackdown drove more than 742,000 mostly women and children of the Rohingya minority over the border into Bangladesh — a mass displacement which UN investigators say amounts to genocide. Now, in the wake of the Feb. 1 coup, the Rohingya are again left wondering what lies in store for them.

Myanmar's military, known as Tatmadaw, seized power in a bloodless coup on Monday, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Secretary; President Win Myint; and several other senior cabinet ministers just hours before parliament was due to reconvene for the first time since elections on Nov. 8.




“One could argue that the military was always in power in Myanmar, it was always in full control,” says Dr. Azeem Ibrahim. (AFP)

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election by a landslide, but the Tatmadaw alleges widespread fraud. Now army chief Min Aung Hlaing has appointed himself head of a new cabinet.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Center for Global Policy and author of the 2017 book “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide,” believes the coup has changed very little for the persecuted Rohingya minority — in large part because Myanmar had only a “veneer” of democracy in the first place.

“The reality is that not much has actually changed,” Ibrahim told a webinar hosted by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit on Wednesday. “Despite the fact that we had elections in Myanmar on two occasions, many would argue that it wasn't actually a real democracy by any stretch of the imagination.”

For instance, a democracy would not automatically allocate 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military or allow the four main ministries of state — foreign affairs, defense, the interior and border control — to remain in the hands of the military. Nor would a true democracy be involved in “genocidal activity” or deny entire swathes of the population the right to vote, he said.

“One could argue that the military was always in power in Myanmar, it was always in full control. Now the military has simply removed that veneer and taken direct control once again,” Ibrahim said.




Government soldiers and local militias rampaged through Rakhine state, torching villages, committing murder and mass rape as they went. (AFP)

More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s.

The latest crackdown, which began on Aug. 25, 2017, in response to attacks on police posts and an army base by Rohingya militants, saw government soldiers and local militias rampage through Rakhine state, torching villages, committing murder and mass rape as they went.

At the peak of the crisis, thousands of Rohingya were crossing the border into Bangladesh on a daily basis, most of them walking for days through jungles and mountains or braving dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal. Some 600,000 remain in Rakhine state, including around 120,000 who are confined to camps.

The vast majority who reached Bangladesh were women and children — more than 40 percent of them under the age of 12, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Many have ended up in sprawling refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara in the Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar.




“You have these very large geopolitical machinations going on between superpowers, nuclear powers. Minority groups like the Rohingya simply don’t fit into that equation.”

The Kutupalong refugee settlement now hosts more than 600,000 people in an area of just 13 square kilometers.

Burdened with the responsibility of hosting this huge influx, Bangladesh is eager to send the Rohingya back to Myanmar. However, the majority refuse to leave, fearing further violence and persecution in a country that denies them citizenship.

Ibrahim says the chances of Rohingya refugees returning any time soon are low.

 




Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Center for Global Policy

“It has always been the case that when the military’s popularity declines, it increases campaigns against these minority groups. So, the immediate term for the Rohingya doesn't look good and the probability of the repatriation of the Rohingya, which was already next to zero, has diminished significantly further,” he said.

“The Myanmar military has spent over half a century trying to get rid of them. They finally did so in 2017. The probability of military backtracking on any of this is very slim.”

In large part this is due to the military’s deliberate effort to quickly change the facts on the ground, making it very difficult to reverse the process of ethnic cleansing.




Many Rohingya have ended up in sprawling refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara in the Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar. (AFP)

“The reality is the Rohingya have actually got nowhere to return back to,” said Ibrahim. “When they were driven over the border into Bangladesh, the Myanmar military very swiftly mined the border to make sure none of them could come back.

“They also burned down their villages, bulldozed their land, and the land has already been redistributed to local Buddhists. The facts on the ground have changed.”

One concern among human-rights observers now is whether the coup will impact the pending genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN seated in The Hague.

“I think this is highly unlikely, because the case was not against a civilian government or a military — the case is actually against the state of Myanmar, and the state still remains completely intact,” said Ibrahim.

In his view, the case may have been strengthened in fact. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed The Hague in 2019 to deny the charge of genocide, she argued there were sufficient mechanisms within the democratic state to hold any individual perpetrators to account.

Now that the military has seized power, “all the democratic institutions have been diluted,” Ibrahim said, thereby strengthening the ICJ’s remit to investigate.

The coup has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community, with Joe Biden’s new US administration already weighing the possibility of reimposing sanctions on Myanmar and the generals involved.

However, Ibrahim believes the West’s options for pressuring the military are “extremely limited” and that any sanctions leveled against the generals will solely press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy — with much less emphasis on human rights and minority groups.

Ibrahim predicts that such sanctions will, in all likelihood, be ineffective given China’s diplomatic and financial support for Myanmar.

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“China is playing a much bigger role in Myanmar. They are the biggest investors in infrastructure and development and financing in the country,” he said, implying that the Tatmadaw believes it can weather any anticipated US sanctions.

“The military learned that despite the fact they were involved in full-scale genocide against the Rohingya minority, China used its veto power at the Security Council to protect it, and that protection will still continue.”

Biden and others in the West will also wish to avoid being pulled into a conflict in Myanmar, especially if that risks confrontation with China.




At the peak of the crisis, thousands of Rohingya were crossing the border into Bangladesh on a daily basis. (AFP)

“China has ambition to be a global superpower, but before it can become a global superpower it must become a regional power. That means keeping its regional nuclear rival India in check. Access to Myanmar gives it access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean,” said Ibrahim.

“You have these very large geopolitical machinations going on between superpowers, nuclear powers. Minority groups like the Rohingya simply don’t fit into that equation.”

With limited means to lobby on their own behalf, the Rohingya find themselves in a very precarious situation and will need others to speak on their behalf. Even if its options are limited, Ibrahim says the international community must stand by the Rohingya.

“One thing that the West must do,” he said, “is try to ensure that there are red lines drawn against the persecution of minorities.”

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards


Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

In this photo taken on Jan. 13, 2022 a fruit vendor waits for customers at his store in Shopian district, Indian-administered Kashmir. There are fears of crisis with the arrival of Iranian apples. (AN photo)
In this photo taken on Jan. 13, 2022 a fruit vendor waits for customers at his store in Shopian district, Indian-administered Kashmir. There are fears of crisis with the arrival of Iranian apples. (AN photo)
Updated 24 min 26 sec ago

Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

In this photo taken on Jan. 13, 2022 a fruit vendor waits for customers at his store in Shopian district, Indian-administered Kashmir. There are fears of crisis with the arrival of Iranian apples. (AN photo)
  • The new apples on the Indian market have devalued Kashmir’s fruit sector
  • Worth $1.34 billion, the apple industry contributes up to 10 percent of Kashmir’s GDP

NEW DELHI: Tajamul Habib Makroo was hoping a bumper crop of apples this year would help him recover from huge losses due to early snowfalls in the previous harvest season, but now he says a new crisis is looming: The arrival of cheap Iranian fruits, which growers like Makroo fear could upend horticulture in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Concentrated in the southern Shopian district, the state’s apple industry contributes 1.8 million tons of the fruit, or 80 percent of India’s annual production, and involves over 5 million workers in the region.

With annual production worth about $1.34 billion, it saw a sudden drop in value last year, when cheap Iranian apples entered the Indian market via Afghanistan, which boasts a free trade agreement with New Delhi.

“Today’s market is very down, rates are down because the apples coming from Iran have brought the apple prices in India down,” Makroo, who has orchards in Sugan village, Shopian, told Arab News.

He said the Iranian apples have slashed the price of local produce in half.

“Earlier, I used to get 1,200 rupees ($16) per box, today the rate is 600,” Makroo added. “The rate we are getting is not able to cover production costs.” In early January, the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-cum-Dealers Union, an apex body representing Kashmiri fruit growers, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to save the industry.

Bashir Ahmad Bashir, the union’s president, said Iranian apples were cheap due to international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

“We have taken up the matter with the Indian government when we came to know about it and warned the government that if the products come to India from Iran, (the) Indian horticulture industry will suffer a lot,” Bashir told Arab News, adding that imposing duties on Iranian fruits could help save the domestic industry.

Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said a lack of intervention would deal a major blow to the local economy. “It’s 8 percent to 10 percent of our GDP of Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “When unemployment is a big challenge for Jammu and Kashmir in this situation the government should take strong notice of it and should defend our people.”

 

Related


Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 24 January 2022

Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
  • 25.9% of Britons feel negatively toward them, 18.1% support banning Muslim immigration
  • ‘Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: Muslims are the second “least-liked” group in the UK, according to a new study that reveals the shocking extent of Islamophobia in the country.

The study, by researchers at the University of Birmingham, found that roughly one in four Britons hold negative views of Muslims and Islam — the highest of any group apart from gypsies and Irish travelers.

Over a quarter of people — 25.9 percent — feel negatively toward Muslims, and just under 10 percent feel “very negative.”

Significantly more Britons hold negative views of Islam in the survey of 1,667 people than they do of other religions.

That translates into much higher support for a hypothetical policy that bars all Muslim migration to Britain.

Nearly one in five people — 18.1 percent — support banning all Muslim migration to the UK, and 9.5 percent “strongly support” that idea.

The study found that Britons are very willing to pass judgment on Islam, but are extremely unlikely to have any real knowledge of the religion.

“British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught,” said the study.

“In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgment, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic.”

This finding — that Britons know less about Islam but are more willing to pass judgment on the faith — “says something about how prejudice works,” Dr. Stephen Jones, author of the study and a researcher focusing on British Muslims, told Arab News.

“We tend to associate prejudice with ignorance, but that’s too simple. Instead, prejudice is a kind of miseducation: Many people in this country think they know what Islam is about, and what Muslims believe, in a way that they admit they don’t for other non-Christian religions.”

Islamophobia is so widespread in Britain, Jones said, that it has become socially acceptable. That is why the report dubs it “the dinner table prejudice” — because people will openly and freely admit to their anti-Muslim prejudice, in a way that they are unlikely to with other religious or ethnic groups.

Jones said: “What I think surveys like this into public attitudes tell us is that not only do Muslims suffer discrimination, but that public hostility toward Muslims is on some level publicly accepted. It’s not just that Muslims suffer from Islamophobia, but that this discrimination isn’t publicly recognized.”

The research makes a series of policy recommendations to address the prevalence of Islamophobia in the UK, including acknowledging that “systemic miseducation about Islam is common in British society and forms an important element of Islamophobia.”

It added: “Government and other public figures should publicly acknowledge and address the lack of public criticism that Islamophobic discourses and practices trigger.”

The report lands at a sensitive time for the ruling Conservative Party, with former Cabinet Minister Nusrat Ghani announcing that she was removed from her position because her “Muslimness” made her colleagues uncomfortable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into her removal, but he has himself previously faced accusations of Islamophobia, including by comparing women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes.” 

Shaista Aziz, an anti-racism and equalities campaigner, told Arab News: “Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism and it has deep-seated and historic roots in the UK. Yet Islamophobia continues to be denied as a form of racism by many across all spheres of society, including in politics, the media and academia.”

She added: “This report provides further nuanced evidence of how pernicious and mainstream Islamophobia is, and how those in power are refusing to recognize this racism.

“Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism, and one that overwhelmingly remains overlooked, denied and unchallenged.”


Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
Updated 24 January 2022

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
  • Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously

BERLIN: A lone gunman wounded several people at a lecture theater in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg on Monday, police said.
Police said in a brief statement that the perpetrator was dead, but didn’t give details of how that happened. They had earlier asked people on Twitter to avoid the Neuenheimer Feld area of Heidelberg, where the city’s university campus is located.
Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously. The university’s press office declined to give any details on the shooting and referred all inquiries to police.
Police said the weapon used in the shooting was a long-barreled firearm.
Heidelberg is located south of Frankfurt and has about 160,000 inhabitants. Its university is one of Germany’s best-known.


Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
Updated 24 January 2022

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
  • Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen tried to pose as Syrian refugee to gain entry to UK
  • He had 2 asylum claims rejected before blowing himself up in November 2021

LONDON: A man who blew himself up in an attempted attack on a women’s hospital in England was rejected for an asylum application six years before the failed bombing, it has emerged.

Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen died after his homemade bomb detonated in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in November 2021. He was the only person killed or harmed.

A series of papers obtained by the BBC and other news outlets reveal new information about the years leading up to his failed attack, and raise questions about the UK’s asylum system.

Al-Swealmeen, 32, first visited Britain in 2013, when he entered on a visitor’s visa and was fingerprinted — a crucial step that later helped authorities uncover a string of lies he told as he sought asylum.

He returned to the UK in May 2014 with a Jordanian passport, but falsely claimed to be of Syrian heritage in his asylum applications, according to the papers.

A judge heard at the time that an Arabic-language expert identified his speech patterns to be Iraqi, and that his story of oppression and suffering in Syria was unlikely to be a retelling of his own experience.

“His account of his time in Syria gives the impression of someone quoting information that is in the public domain rather than having first-hand experience,” ruled the judge when rejecting his application for asylum. 

“The appellant did not identify himself with any particular faction or indicate that he would be at risk other than in a general sense.”

An appeal against the decision was then dismissed in 2015. Al-Swealmeen applied again in 2017 under a new name, and was once again rejected in 2020.

He appealed that rejection last year, but a decision on that appeal was never made because months later he was killed in his attack on the hospital.

It is not clear why he was not removed from Britain after his asylum claims were rejected and his falsehoods exposed.

The documents also detailed a slew of mental health issues he was struggling with, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also emerged that Al-Swealmeen had been imprisoned in Iraq for a serious assault, and had previous convictions in Liverpool for possession of an offensive weapon. 

He was caught waving a knife at passers-by in a Liverpool underpass, and was detained under the Mental Health Act.

The Home Office did not comment on the specific circumstances of Al-Swealmeen’s case, but told the BBC that it is “fixing the broken asylum system” in its current legislation.

A spokesperson said: “The new plan for immigration will require people to raise all protection-related issues up front, to tackle the practice of making multiple and sequential claims and enable the removal of those with no right to be in our country more quickly.”


Beirut Marathon founder honored by Italian government

Beirut Marathon founder honored by Italian government
Updated 24 January 2022

Beirut Marathon founder honored by Italian government

Beirut Marathon founder honored by Italian government
  • May El-Khalil made knight of the Order of the Star of Italy at a ceremony at the Italian Embassy in Beirut
  • The marathon, which brings together runners from across sectarian divides, is one of the largest in the region

ROME: The founder of the Beirut Marathon has been awarded a knighthood by the Italian government in recognition of her work in developing and promoting sport as a tool for inclusion, empowerment and resilience.

In a ceremony at the Italian Embassy in Beirut, Ambassador Nicoletta Bombardiere bestowed the honor of knight of the Order of the Star of Italy upon May El-Khalil, the president of the Beirut Marathon Association, which oversees the annual race.

The event has been held every autumn since 2003, and is one of the largest running events in the Middle East.

The marathon was accredited by the International Association of Athletic Federations in 2009, and thousands of people take part every year.

The knighthood, Italy’s second-highest civilian honor, is given to Italians or foreigners who have acquired special merit in the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation between the republic and other countries.

Bombardiere said El-Khalil “embodies a model of commitment and perseverance,” adding: “She has been able, through sport, to create opportunities for the younger generations, and to reach out to the different communities in Lebanon. A story of professional success, personal courage and public commitment.

“Sport is not only a tool for physical, but also for mental well-being, moral education and national reconciliation,” the Italian envoy added.

A local sports official, El-Khalil explained her initiative was for the marathon in Beirut to be “open to all, as an antidote to sectarianism.”

She has already earned several national and international awards for her work, and said she was inspired to launch the marathon after being involved in a near-fatal running accident. She was hospitalized for two years, had to undergo a long series of surgeries, with doctors warning her she would never run again.

Her resolve to recover from this personal struggle, however, led to the creation of an event that, each year, draws runners and fans from opposing political and religious communities together in a symbolic act of peace.