Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette
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Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette

By Dr Kyi May Kaung Friday, November 23, 2001

November 23, 2001—On October 29 Ms Ma Thanegi, former trusted companion of Burmese democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and now one of Suu Kyi's most vocal critics, came to Washington DC to participate in a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She was scheduled to speak on what she said were her own views of Burma. Many dissidents inside and outside Burma consider Ma Thanegi to be a spokesman for the regime. At the presentation, however, she was introduced, by moderator Dr. G John Ikenberry, as a close associate of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and that Ms Ma Thanegi had been imprisoned because of her closeness to Suu Kyi. Ma Thitsa, a former political prisoner who was detained in Insein prison and is now a student in Boston, said that when she was in prison during 1990-91, she and Ma Thanegi were held in the same building. Ma Thanegi, she said, was actually incarcerated for having been Suu Kyi's personal assistant. However, according to Ma Thitsa, due to the strict rules of Insein prison and the fact that Ma Thanegi was given a cell all to herself, whereas the other political prisoners were forced to share cells, the two were never able to discuss politics. While introducing Ma Thanegi, John Ikenberry said that she had evolved her own ideas after being released; to the dissident community, this translates as "selling out" to the military regime in Burma. One dissident noted that it was ironic that even a critic of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sought to legitimate herself to the international community by establishing her former close association with the democracy leader. Jeremy Woodrum, Director of the Free Burma Coalition, was among those demonstrating outside the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace while Ma Thanegi spoke inside. Woodrum told Radio Free Asia's (RFA) Sein Kyaw Hlaing in a broadcast interview that David Steinberg of Georgetown University helped arrange Ma Thanegi's visit through the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. He added that she is a contributing editor to the Myanmar Times, an English-language paper widely believed to have connections with the regime. During the small reception prior to the beginning of the panel, I had a chance to talk to Ma Thanegi briefly. She is a small woman with black hair stylishly cut short and flipped upwards away from her face. She has smooth brown skin and a pixie face with an outjutting jaw that seemingly never cracks a smile. It was easy to spot her among the milling guests. She was wearing a black blouse that looked hand-tailored in Rangoon, a red longyi and matching bright red lipstick. She told me that she had gone to Methodist English High School in Rangoon at the same time that I was there and mentioned the name of a relative of hers that I could not recall. She also said that she knew some of my extended family still living in Burma. I noticed that several important people in the Burmese democracy movement and the international donor community attended the event and Voice of America (VOA) and RFA reporters were in attendance. As Ma Thanegi was the featured speaker she spoke first on her topic, which had been announced ahead of time: The Culture Clash and Political Breakdown: Relations between the United States and Myanmar. The title is dense and almost incomprehensible and later on I found out I wasn't the only one who didn't understand this title. Brian Joseph, another speaker on the panel, also said he did not understand the meaning of her topic. The main points she made were as follows: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Bogyoke Aung San, the leader of Burma's pre-war Independence movement and the founding father of the nation, and because of this association she received an elitist education overseas. Ma Thanegi said Suu Kyi is naturally idealistic in her beliefs and that because the international press has continually reported on her and subsequently pushed her into a corner that she has become even more idealistic than before. Ma Thanegi also added that the international press has taken a liking to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because she is "so beautiful and charming". In regards to the timing of the reconciliation process and the transition to democracy in Burma, Ma Thanegi advocated patience. She said that there is no reason to get frustrated about the process "as it depends on the two sides and should be secret". On the issue of sanctions she mounted quite an emotional argument compared to the beginning of her presentation where she spent a great deal of time talking about her interpretation of Burmese culture. She accused United States foreign policy of "economic terrorism". She then referred to US Senate Bill 926 and speculated that it could cause "100,000 women and children" to lose their jobs. However in an interview with RFA’s U Sein Kyaw Hlaing that was broadcast the next day, the figure became "200,000 to 300,000".

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