Calls for a civil disobedience campaign in Myanmar gained momentum on Wednesday when the United States formally declared a military takeover a coup and promised further sanctions for the generals behind the coup.
Myanmar was thrown back into direct military rule when soldiers imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn marches on Monday, ending the country’s brief experiment with democracy.
Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since the coup, won a huge landslide with her National League for Democracy (NLD) in November last year, but the military – whose favored parties suffered a setback – declared the vote fraudulent.
With soldiers back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met with any major protests.
But signs of general anger and plans for resistance have begun to emerge, especially online.
The clapping of pots and pans – and the honking of car horns – spilled over the country’s largest city, Yangon, on Tuesday night after conversations about protest went out on social media.
Activists also launched a “Civil Disobedience Movement” Facebook group to explain opposition and share ideas. On Wednesday morning, about 24 hours after launch, it had almost 150,000 followers.
Army Chief of Staff Min Aung Hlaing was appointed head of a new cabinet stacked with past and present generals, which justified his coup on Tuesday as the “inevitable” result of civilian leaders not following the army’s fraud warnings.
The military declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once their allegations of voter irregularities had been addressed and investigated.
The move stunned Myanmar, a country that was left depleted by decades of junta misconduct before beginning to take steps toward a more democratic and civic-led government ten years ago.
The deadly legacy of the military
Doctors and nurses were among professionals who early on declared their intention to strike.
“We will only follow and obey the orders of our democratically elected government,” read a statement from doctors published overnight on the Civil Disobedience Movement page.
But protesting against Myanmar’s military is risky.
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Under the junta board, disagreements broke out with thousands of activists – including Suu Kyi – imprisoned for several years.
Censorship was widespread and the military often used deadly force during periods of political unrest, especially during major protests in 1988 and 2007.
On Wednesday morning, the official newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar published a warning from the Ministry of Information against opposing the coup.
“Some of the media organizations and people publish rumors on social media and release statements to create riots and unstable situation,” read the English language.
It urged people “not to make such moves and to cooperate with the government in accordance with existing laws”.
The military’s actions have been met with a growing chorus of international condemnation, although options are limited for those nations hoping Myanmar’s generals can turn the corner.
On Tuesday, the State Department formally declared the takeover a coup, meaning the United States cannot help Myanmar’s government.
All the consequences will be mainly symbolic, as almost all aid goes to non-governmental units and Myanmar’s military was already under US sanctions over its brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and several other nations have also spoken.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but could not agree on a statement condemning the coup.
To be accepted, support is required from China, which has a veto right as a permanent member of the Security Council and is Myanmar’s main supporter of the UN.
“China and Russia have asked for more time,” said a diplomat who requested anonymity at the end of the meeting, which lasted just over two hours.
Both countries repeatedly protected Myanmar from distrust of the UN over military violence against Rohingya, a campaign that UN investigators said was genocide.
The coup is the first major foreign policy test for President Joe Biden, who has vowed to stand up for faltering democracies and defend human rights.
In a powerful statement on Monday, he said the United States would consider imposing new sanctions on Myanmar.
But Washington is also wary of pushing Myanmar further into China’s path.
“China is only too happy to provide material and political support to the Burmese military as part of its ongoing effort to maximize its influence in Southeast Asia,” said Daniel Russel, of the Asia Society Policy Institute.