Today’s big question

Can Aung San Suu Kyi reclaim hero status following Myanmar coup?

The detained civil leader fell from grace over Rohingya crisis but remains face of nation’s pro-democracy movement

Very few political figures occupy as complicated a role on the international stage as Myanmar’s highest civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

After being held up as a “paragon of peaceful resistance and heroic self-sacrifice” in the country’s transition to democracy, the Nobel Peace Prize winner then became a “pariah” over her refusal to condemn the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, says The Times.

However, world leaders are lining up to condemn this week’s coup by the Myanmar military, which has seized power and declared a one-year state of emergency after arresting Suu Kyi and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

So, asks the paper’s Asia editor Richard Lloyd Parry, “what are we to make of her now?”

Suu Kyi’s response to attacks on the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2017 was “the beginning of her fall from grace in the eyes of the outside world”, Sky News reports.

Appearing at The Hague to defend the country against allegations of genocide, she blamed “terrorists” for spreading an “iceberg of misinformation”, and defended the military - her partner in government - by saying soldiers were exercising the “rule of law”.

As The Times’ Lloyd Parry notes, her defenders have argued that Suu Kyi - whose current whereabouts following her arrest on Monday are unknown - was also in a “vulnerable position” back then owing to the military’s oversized role in Myanmar’s politics.

“If she were to condemn the army over the Rohingya, the argument went, she would risk having them rise against her,” Lloyd Parry continues. 

“At the time this was unconvincing to many - and yet here she is today, shunted out of power, locked up along with her supporters, the democratic hopes of her country in tatters.”

Rohingya refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh have joined in the condemnation of the coup, but told Al Jazeera that they do not “feel sorry” for Suu Kyi. 

Rohingya community leader Mohammad Yunus Arman drew attention to how the now-toppled leader “remained silent” as her nation’s military laid waste to his people’s villages, adding: “We used to pray for her success and used to treat her like our queen. But after 2017, we realised her real character.”

Yet despite that damning verdict, “the old, heroic Suu Kyi was above all a symbol” of Myanmar’s democratisation, says Lloyd Parry.

“Arguably, it was the role she performed best. If she reprises it, perhaps the world will learn to love her again,” he concludes.

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