Salute to Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Winner

By Kawkab al-Thaibani

November 29, 2011

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Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Yemeni Human Rights adovocate.

“I was always saying to Tawakkol, do not bring shame on us,” I recall Abdul-Salam Karman saying about his daughter Tawakkol who is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. As he entered the tent to await his daughter, the tall slightly bearded Karman thought of his daughter, a human rights advocate who struggled for greater equality for Yemeni women. Tawakkol is one of the few women imprisoned in early February because she had been outspoken about the ouster of President Saleh.

“She is braver than me to call the president to leave,” continued, Karman, himself an influential politician for the opposition. His pride in Tawakkol is shared by the entire country which celebrates with this young Yemeni woman who has brought honor not only to Yemen, but to all Arabs as she is the first Arab female to win this prize.

Yemen is a hard country to understand and it is difficult to explain to the world how this country is great. We have in our history a tribal system with advanced laws regarding women. For example, it is widely believed that the Queen of Sheba, whose name in Arabic is Saba, a reference to the great kingdom of the Sabaeans which was situated in what is today Yemen. However, in recent history, women and their rights are marginalized following waves of religious extremism through the country.

But, today some women are standing up to win back their rights along with Tawakkol. She brings honor to me as a woman. Tawakkol brings honor to all Yemenis by showing the world that despite extremist voices Yemeni women can stand strong ready to reclaim their traditional status. Her courageous advocacy for restoring human dignity to Yemeni women was waged at great personal cost. Her house is destroyed and she had to leave behind her three children for a safe haven.

Tawakkol was once a fully veiled woman who grew up in a religious family. She married before she was twenty. As far as I know, Tawakkol is religious, but she is also reasonable and thus has never allowed dull religious opinions to control her life. As her understanding grew, Tawakkol cast off wearing her face veil and through symbolic gesture cast off the constraints of religious extremism. Thereby freeing herself to question and discuss openly some of the Islamic issues of our day. I remember once a colleague came back surprised that Tawakkol criticized some of the Islamic regulations.

Tawakkol receiving the Peace Prize comes at a time when the spirit of activists and their faith in peaceful protests is waning. The prize guarantees that the women’s rights will not be undermined. Our Nobel Peace prize winner’s aspirations for Yemen include a civil state where all people can live under the rule of law.

Tawakkol and fellow activists are to be saluted for forming a presidential council and daring attempt to find a way out of the country’s current situation. Alongside Tawakkol has been Khaled al-Anesi, Abdullah al-Sharif, Maizar al-Shariff, Abdullah Hathal and Mohammed al-Nahimi, her husband. This group knows no religion, race or any other affiliations; they are united by a common goal of bettering their country.
Khaled al-Anesi, her longtime friend and another front line activist deserves to be saluted for his support and encouragement to Tawakkol. Anesi is a seasoned attorney who left his job, family and camped with the other activists. Ali al-Sharif and Abdullah Hathal, two powerful men from Ma’rib, are also to be saluted for being there for the long struggle.

A big cheer goes to Mizar al-Junaid, a very brave activist from Ta’iz and one of the first people to call for change, and Abdul-Nasser al-Fuhaidi, an outstanding member of this unique group. We are at a time of great despair, fear, and loss, but we cry out for our country. Headed by Tawakkol, many supporters have marched to the palace to oppose the regime. They soon became a target of the opposition especially when they raised their voices in favor of the Gulf Council Countries’ initiative. I was always fascinated by the moral character and open-mindedness of the activists, and no wonder a Noble Prize winner was among them.

I also salute Tawakkol’s husband, who is always her staunch supporter. He is subject to harsh judgment; people say he cannot control his wife. He shares Tawakkol’s ambitions for Yemen as well as the sacrifices, which are the price one pays for freedom. Finally, salute to you Tawakkol for revealing to the world that Yemen is a county struggling to achieve peace. For Yemenis are a peaceful people.

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