2: The dramatic events of 2007 in Myanmar: domestic and international implications[1]

Richard Horsey

Table of Contents

The fuel-price protests of August 2007
Myanmar fuel policy
Why a different reaction this time?
The events of September 2007 and their impact
The events of September 2007
The significance of the involvement of Buddhist clergy
Domestic implications
The impact on the regime’s political program
Socioeconomic issues
Dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi


In the second half of September 2007, events in Myanmar exploded onto television screens around the world. The pictures—first showing ordered columns of orange-robed monks marching through the streets of Yangon, then showing the brutal response by security forces—generated surprise and shock. The events took place while the UN General Assembly was meeting in New York, amplifying their international political impact.

No-one seemed to have anticipated the sudden involvement of the monks or the speed with which the demonstrations gathered pace. In particular, the regime itself appeared to be taken by surprise. Then, once the demonstrations had been effectively put down, there was a sense that this was a watershed moment, and that the situation in Myanmar could never be quite the same. In the words of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, ‘a return to the status quo ante is unsustainable’.[2]

In part one, this chapter explores the origin of the demonstrations, in particular the fuel-price protests of August 2007, in an attempt to understand the events that ultimately led to the large-scale demonstrations in September. It investigates why it was that the recent increase in fuel costs gave rise to persistent (if small-scale) demonstrations, when even sharper fuel-price increases in 2005 prompted no public reaction.

In part two, the chapter looks at how the September demonstrations by the monks evolved, and at the nature of the response of the security forces. It discusses the reasons why the monks took to the streets in such large numbers and the domestic impact of the regime’s violent response. It then discusses whether a return to the status quo ante is inconceivable, and whether it would indeed be unsustainable.

[1] This chapter is based in part on two briefing papers written for the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum (The implications of the fuel-price protests in Myanmar, 18 September 2007; and The impact of the events of September 2007 in Myanmar, 12 November 2007). Only minor editorial and stylistic revisions have been made to the version of this chapter presented to the Myanmar/Burma Update conference in December 2007, and it therefore does not take into account developments in the situation since the beginning of 2008.

[2] Author’s meeting with Professor Gambari, Bangkok, 15 October 2007.