Armies of Liberation

Jane Novak's blog about Yemen

Yemeni Activist Tawakkol Karman wins Nobel Peace Prize

Filed under: Civil Rights, Islah, Yemen, reconfigurations — by Jane Novak at 5:48 am on Friday, October 7, 2011


Update: this is Tawakkol’s English website at Woman Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) that has all her reports on press freedom and clips of several of her interviews. I’m posting it for those people who have no idea of who she is, fail to do research and yet feel compelled to jump to bizarre conclusions based on her association with Islah, a relationship which is in reality quite fractured. Islah is the main opposition party in Yemen and contains many wings- tribal, reformist, fundamentalist, activist and modernist- it’s a compendium of often competing interests. Islah formed an alliance in 2003 with the Shiite parties, the Socialists, the Nasserites and the Baathists that is called the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The Youth Revolution of which Tawakkol is a leader notes the JMP is ineffectual, corrupt and opportunistic, and the youth have rejected all JMP negotiations on their behalf. And al Zindani was a long time ally of President Saleh; in fact, Saleh launched his presidential campaign from al Iman university in 2006.

Original: I’m rather touched and very happy to learn of Tawakkol Karman winning the Nobel. Not only did Tawwakol lead the Yemeni protests since February, she led them in Freedom Square for the two years prior, protesting for a newspaper license and media freedom and a range of other causes that came along. I’m glad the committee made such a good choice this year. Tawwakol heads a journalist organization since 2005 which for published semi-annual reports on widespread abuses and denial of media freedom, and they published several on corruption showing exactly who in the the state stole the billions where and how. Tawakkol supported a wide range of civil rights issues in Yemen. She is a leader of the current Yemeni revolution, always on the front lines facing down the rifles. Update: “Yemen will remain happy, and will even spread it’s happiness to the whole world,” Tawakol Karman said today.

Yahoo News: OSLO, Norway (AP) — Africa’s first democratically elected female president, a Liberian peace activist and a woman who stood up to Yemen’s authoritarian regime won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their work to secure women’s rights, which the prize committee described as fundamental to advancing world peace.

The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leyma Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize.

By citing Karman, the committee also appeared to be acknowledging the effects of the Arab Spring, which has challenged authoritarian regimes across the region

In honor, and with honor, I am reprinting a letter Tawakkol wrote after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina: Yemeni activist writes the American people:


Dear Jane E. Novak,

My name is Tawakkul A. Karman, I’m from Yemen, and I’m a journalist, at the same time I’m the Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Borders. I’m sending to you this letter with my best regards, wishing this letter would find you in best health, and to share with the American people during this hard time they are passing through now and was caused by “Catrina” hurricane. Brother Abdulkrim al-khiwany has informed me to contact you because you would be the best person who can convey our condolences to the American People (either governmental or non-governmental offices), you would find an attachment condolences letter attached to this e-mail. Thank you very much.


Chairwoman of
Women Journalists Without Borders
Tawakkul A. Karman

To the Victims of “Catrina” hurricane:

Women Journalists Without Borders, is sending to you their best regards hoping this letter would find you in a best shape, at the same time we would like to express to you our condolences for the victims of “Catrina” hurricane. We’re sure that the American nation will pass this tragedy with more strength, and hope for brighter future. God Bless you all.

Chairwoman of
Women Journalists Without Borders.
Tawakkul A. Karman

A 2008 post I wrote: Tawwakkol Karaman is an AMAZING woman who is under severe threat from the Yemeni regime for her civil society work. She is currently in fear for her life and is also getting threats on kids. They write nasty stuff about her in the yellow tabloids. Why? Because she, like al-Khaiwani, believes in democracy and freedom of speech. (Also Yemen is ranked the number one most gender unequal society in the world, so she faces a second set of challenges.) Some of her reports on press freedom are here

This is a 2007 profile I wrote about Tawakkol:

Tawakol Karman is the founder and Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJC). Ms. Karaman is an effective Yemeni activist dedicated to advancing press freedom in Yemen. Hood on Line, the Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, notes that Tawakul Karman has been harassed for more than a year. For example, she received a phone call November 12, 2007 from the Yemeni phone number (011-967)734606844 in which she was accused of undermining national unity because she attended public rallies in Radfan and Dhalie which called for enhanced democracy. She received death threats on herself and her children and was ordered to stay at home. Ms. Karman also received numerous lewd messages repeating the slander published in the attack newspapers, Al-Dastor and Al-Belad.

On December 1, 2007 Political Security Organization confiscated WJC documents on press freedom during a civil society exhibition. Ms. Karman and WJC have also been denied a newspaper licence despite fulfilling legal requirements. The organization was originally called Female Reporters Without Borders, but a regime-loyal clone was issued a license for the same name.

Among Ms. Karman’s many accomplishments is the production of the Semi-Annual Press Freedom Report which showed an uptick in assaults on Yemeni journalists with 53 recorded in 2005 and 69 in 2006. Another WJC report tallies hundreds of assaults on journalistic freedom by perpetrator and finds the National Security Organization the biggest violator. The Ministry of Information, Ministry of Interior, Political Security Office and the Military Guidance Unit also committed numerous attacks.

She lead journalists in a weekly sit-in protesting a regime ban on text message news alerts. At the seventh weekly sit-in by journalists in Sana’a, Ms. Karman explained, “While we are holding this sit-in for the sake of freedom of expression and the right of having its media means, we salute journalist, Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani, and announce our solidarity with him, considering him one of the pioneers of freedom of expression” She added. “The good pressmen are being violated, imprisoned, abducted, beaten, and wiretapped all over Yemen.” After fourteen weeks, the ban was reversed with the exception of WJC’s text messages, which remained banned.

In the highly conservative Islamic country, “Karman is one of very few Yemeni women who removed her face veil publicly to prove that Islam doesn’t impose the face veil on women, so she used herself as an example,” the Yemen Times noted. During the cartoon controversy, Ms. Karman wrote an article, “Burning Embassies Is Not the Way”, which stated, “We are not to call for tyranny and bans on freedom.”

Speaking at a forum against organized violence, Tawakol Karman said she could not find herself offended in “an offended country in general”. She noted, “ I have received many critical messages about alleged relations with American and about my parent’s remorse to get a girl like me. But many Yemeni men face more violence than women,” NewsYemen reported. In the recent past, the death threats on Tawwaol Karaman and her children intensified and she is currently in fear for her life.

This is the face of the Yemeni revolution and there are many like her. And when Peter King asks the head of the CTC if the Yemeni youth are going to merge with AQAP. the answer should have been a resounding No.

Update: Tawakkol is also on the leadership council of the uber-scary Islah political party, the Islamic Reform Party, which is quite diverse; many members are determined young pro-democracy reformists. The crusty top level of aged leaders doesn’t represent the vibrancy of the membership.

Ms. Blogger Afrah Nasser on Swedish radio responds to the Nobel (English) with a good overview of what it means for Yemenis.

An article by Tawakkol from this year in the Guardian about the Yemeni revolution.

Dropping some links BBC: She has campaigned to raise the minimum age at which women can marry in Yemen.

And this is what is driving some people nuts and nuts they are: AP: Prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it was also difficult to identify the leaders of the Arab Spring among the scores of activists who have spearheaded protests using social media…He noted that Karman, 32, is a member of a political party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement sometimes viewed with suspicion in the West. Jagland, however, called the Brotherhood “an important part” of the Arab Spring.

New Yorker: On her mantle sit the photographs of four people: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela; and Hillary Clinton. The first three, of course, are apostles of non-violent change. Karman told me that if her movement had a playbook it was Mandela’s autobiography. Karman idolizes Clinton because she is a strong woman—“she is my role model”—but also because of Clinton’s support for her.

al Ahram Weekly
Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, the third member of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize trio. Karman’s human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) was an integral part of the Arab awakening, but that is an entirely different story.

It seems the Nobel committee is playing politics here, signalling to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that he should step down in the face of the “non-violent struggle” led by Yemenis like Karman.

The political message we can take from these awards is very much a mainstream one, where women who support Western-style democracy and liberal principles, fighting for “women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work” are being celebrated.

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