If I was Aung San Suu Kyi, I would be extremely ticked off.
I would be sitting there in Burma watching events unfold in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and I would be thinking:
“Hey. What about me?”
For over twenty years she has been the symbol of opposition to a regime that has held back the political and economic freedom of the Burmese people. Her legitimacy has been authenticated at the ballot box. She heads an organised – if somewhat chaotic – opposition movement. She has a coherent set of alternative policies for the running of the country. She is courageous and tough. She has suffered for her country and has the full support of the international community.
In addition, she is avowedly non-violent and her campaign against the generals is one of the few morally unambiguous causes in the world. And her intelligence and good humour make her the darling of the global media.
Surely, she must have thought: “why was I not born Egyptian?” With her elegance, natural authority and regal air she would have made the perfect latter-day Cleopatra.
But, thankfully for the Burmese people, I am not Aung San Suu Kyi. And I am sure that she has not allowed herself to give way to the seething resentment I would feel at seeing disorganised opposition movements with no clear leadership topple autocratic regimes in North Africa. On the contrary, she is no doubt genuinely supportive of the demand for political reform and democracy on the other side of the world despite the resolute determination of the Burmese junta to stay in power at home.
Our Research director, Dr Steve Thomsan has been repeating the mantra “Geo-politics is back” for over six months now. His point being that – for companies, at least – concerns about grand, transnational trends need to be balanced by a focus on the specific reactions of individual states to the issues that immediately affect them.
Of course, we can see key similarities between those countries in the Middle East and North Africa that have been affected by the recent surge in political protest: young populations with high unemployment (or under-employment), thwarted expectations of the middle class, sudden rises in the price of basic food stuffs and the loyalty or otherwise of the army.
But some regimes will falter and go, others will duck and weave and stay in power. What distinguishes the former from the latter is the particular characteristics of a country and the political guile of individual leaders regardless of the existence of common risk factors.
No doubt both Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals are watching what is happening today in Tripoli and Benghazi with avid interest. But she is wise enough to know that what could happen in Libya is not a blue- print for what might happen in Burma. And among her many virtues, patience is near the top of the list.