The world’s least wanted people and the president on death row

Stranded at sea

Persecuted at home, not wanted abroad (Photo: European Commission)

It’s become a bit of a journalistic cliche to start articles on the Rohingya by saying “they’ve been described as the world’s least wanted people”, but the title is definitely accurate. Their plight has been in the headlines this week, as thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are stranded in the Andaman sea off Thailand. Abandoned on cargo ships by people smugglers, the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian navies have been pushing them back and forth in an argument over who should have to deal with them.

The country most sure that the Rohingya aren’t their problem is Myanmar. The Rohngya are an Muslim ethnic and religious minority, and are treated terribly by the government. While they have lived there for centuries, Myanmar states that they are illegal immigrants and a threat to the country. They have no citizenship, their movement is strictly controlled, and many of them are forced to live in terrible conditions in camps. Buddhist monks (yes, Buddhists can be violent fundamentalists too) have whipped up religious hatred against them, saying that they are hoping to take over the country.

It’s no wonder therefore that they’re trying to flee the country, but they aren’t finding better treatment elsewhere. Previously the Rohingya would be taken to Thailand and held in jungle camps until ransoms were paid and they were allowed to cross the border into Muslim Malaysia. However, Thailand is now cracking down on the people smugglers, so the smugglers have abandoned the Rohingya’s. Both Malaysia and Indonesia have also made clear that they are not interested in giving the refugees a home. A meeting will now be held between regional states on the 29th of May to discuss what to do. Meanwhile, the Rohingya will continue to drift.

From palace to cell

It’s a long way to fall…

This week Egypt took another step away from its brief period of civilian government. Mohammed Morsi – the first ever democratically elected President of Egypt – has now been sentenced to death. It’s a very clear message to opponents of President el-Sisi’s military backed government that no mercy will be taken in the oppression of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The journey of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is extraordinary. Under previous presidents Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak they underwent periods of persecution and execution and imprisonment of members, while retaining a strong following among ordinary Egyptians. After the Arab Spring revolution in 2011 the well organised Brotherhood was well placed to win the first free elections, though many suspected that they had colluded with the military to ensure they were the only viable candidate. Once in power though, they turned out to be unable to turn Egypt’s economy around, and seemed mainly focused on putting their own people in positions of power. After millions of Egyptians took to the streets, a military coup removed Morsi from power. Since then the Brotherhood has been smashed, with hundreds of members given death sentences, which are yet to be carried out.

Morsi has been tried before for his role in the deaths of protesters during his year in power, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This death sentence has been handed down for his alleged cooperation with foreign militants to free Brotherhood members from prison during the revolution. He still faces another few trials on numerous different charges. While chances are high the execution won’t actually be carried out, it’s a symbolic gesture. The Muslim Brotherhood is done for. It also means that of Egypt’s last three presidents, one was assassinated and two were overthrown and put on trial. El-Sisi will be making sure he doesn’t follow a similar path.

The information about the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood is mainly from a lecture by Robbert Woltering, a leading Dutch expert on Egypt.

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