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Is Myanmar about to rejoin the world?

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But there is a palpable mood of hope in Yangon as people allow themselves to dream that their country may at last be on a path out of the fearful, downtrodden poverty to which decades of harsh and incompetent military rule have condemned it.

"The fear factor is gone," says Thiha Saw, a crusading newspaper editor. "People are getting bolder and bolder. We call ourselves 'Brave New Burma.' "

This is no Arab Spring

Do not mistake Myanmar's emergence from its repressive cocoon for an Asian variant of the Arab Spring. The citizenry may have yearned for greater freedom, but the Army had little difficulty in suppressing two outbursts of popular anger – a student uprising in 1988 and the so-called Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks in 2007.

Today's transition to democracy – if that is what it turns out to be – is happening on the military's own carefully planned terms, following a blueprint drawn up 10 years ago.

"The [civilian] government itself is an outcome of goodwill of Tatmadaw," the official daily New Light of Myanmar recently reminded its readers, using the Burmese word for the Army.

Just why the military decided to withdraw from the day-to-day running of the country is a question that has scholars and observers scratching their heads. Perhaps the generals realized how far behind its neighbors Myanmar had fallen economically; maybe they feared the country's heavy dependence on China; possibly they concluded they could lead their nation no further up a political and economic dead-end street. In any event, they wanted broader international acceptance and an end to US and other Western economic sanctions; only a move toward democracy would unlock that door.

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