The awarding of a major telecommunications contract in Myanmar to Qatar’s Ooredoo has sparked religious hatred among radical Buddhists.
Hours after the announcement on Thursday, a monk who is one of the leaders of a radical nationalist Buddhist movement called for a boycott of one of the two companies because it is based in Qatar, a Muslim country.
“Did the government have such little choice?” the monk, Ashin Wimala, a leader of the 969 movement, said in an interview with the New York Times.
“Why did they award this to a Muslim company?”
There also was a flurry of critical comments on the Facebook page where the government announcement was posted.
“Why? Why? Why Muslim company omg,” said one.
“Say no to Ooredoo,” said another.
Ooredoo and Telenor Mobile Communications of Norway each won a 15-year licence to provide mobile services to the south-east Asian nation, which is emerging from a long history of being ruled by a military junta.
The contract will require building networks from scratch in a country where a tiny 5-10 percent of the 55m population has access to mobile coverage.
Myanmar was ruled by a military junta until two years ago and the subsequent lifting of US-imposed sanctions has seen foreign investment rise exponentially.
Both Ooredoo and Telenor have plenty of cash flow, which will be needed to help Mynamar invest in the critical infrastructure it is lacking.
But there is a strong anti-Muslim sentiment among the population, of which about 90 percent are Buddhist.
In recent months, the leaders of the 969 movement have called for a boycott of shops owned by Muslims and products they say are linked to companies owned by Muslims. The movement says the country’s Buddhist character is under threat and has proposed banning marriages between Muslims and Buddhists, according to the New York Times.
Over the last year, Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
On Sunday, the movement appeared to receive the blessing of President Thein Sein when he issued a statement calling Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the movement, “a son of Lord Buddha.”
However, the government stood by its selection of Ooredoo.
“We selected them for a license on the basis of their services: they have a good telecom service in Singapore,” U Ye Htut, a government spokesman, told the New York Times.
Ooredoo chairman Sheik Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani said in a statement on Thursday that Myanmar would “undoubtedly become a key market” for the company.