Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in non-violent struggle for the expression rights, safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work in Yemen.
Upon being awarded the prize, Tawakkol became the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to that date, at the age of 32.
Karman, a mother of three, is a human rights activist, journalist, politician and president of the NGO Women Journalists without Chains (WJWC). She is also the general coordinator of the Peaceful Youth Revolution Council, a member of the advisory board for the Transparency International and several other international human rights NGOs.
Bold and outspoken, Karman has been imprisoned on numerous occasions for her pro-democracy and pro-human rights protests. Among Yemen’s youth movement, she is known as “mother of the revolution”, “the iron woman”, and “the lady of the Arab spring”.
Tawakkol Abdul-Salam Khalid Karman (born February 7, 1979) is a Yemeni human rights activist, journalist, politician, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Tawakkol was born in Taiz province- Yemen’s. At early age, she moved with her family to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, by virtue of her father’s work, where she She earned a BA degree in administrative and economic science collage from the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a, and Post-graduate degree in Educational Psychology at Sanaa University. she got a diploma degree in investigative journalism form USA,
Tawakkol is the daughter of the well-known politician and constitutional jurist Abdul Salam Karman who was the first Secretary General of the first elected Shura Council “Parliament “ in Yemen following the Revolution of 26 September 1962. The father also assumed the post of Legal &Parliamentary Affairs Minister after the Yemeni Unity in 1990. Then he served as a judge in Public Funds Court, but he quickly resigned in protest against corruption and violation of laws.
As a journalist by profession and human rights activist by nature, Tawakkol responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen by mobilizing others and reporting on injustices. In 2005, Karman co-founded the no-governmental organization “Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) to advocate for women’s rights, civil rights and freedom of expression.
She has organized and participated in countless activities and written articles, calling for abandonment of despotism, extremism, violence and terrorism, for dialogues between religions and sects and for co-existence between peoples, cultures and civilizations.
Tawakkol Karman was one of the first voices calling for the departure of Saleh’s dictatorial regime, and she had always been firmly convinced of the need to achieve this goal as clearly expressed in her different articles during the pre-2011 period such as the one published by Al-Thawri newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Yemeni Socialist Party, on September 27, 2007. Therein, she called for a popular peaceful uprising throughout Yemen to overthrow the then existing regime to be replaced by a full democratic system.
In 2007, Karman founded what became known as Freedom Square in front of Yemeni Cabinet in Sana’a to be a place for weekly protests – every Tuesday – targeting systemic government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and other forms of social and legal injustices. These protests continued to be held until she redirected protesters to support the Arab Spring in 2011. Karman even brought Yemen’s revolution to New York, organizing rallies at the UN headquarters.
Since as early as 2007, the longtime activist for human rights and freedom of expression had been able to organize hundreds of protests, sit-ins and solidarity events, as well as campaigned for women’s rights and ending harassment of journalists. All of this became a source of inspiration for citizens to reject injustice and show solidarity without fear of influential and the security services.
About 26 sit-ins were staged to demand newspaper licenses and advocate for mobile news services denied a license in 2007. In 2008, five sit-ins were held in order to protest against tough restrictions on newspapers. In 2009-2010, 80 sit-ins were held to demand stopping an exceptional court to prosecute so-called press offenses, and lifting restrictions on newspapers as well.
Tawakkol Karman courageously stood up for individuals who were subjected to human rights violations, such as the villagers in Ja’ashin , an area in Ibb province where feudal sheikh forced dozens of families and those who refused to submit to his power to leave their homes and lands. As the president of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), Karman called on the authority to take a decisive stand against the influential sheik, bring him to justice and stand up for the vulnerable. Additionally, she supported a case of a citizen in Hodeidah province who was subjected to brutal torture by a local sheikh who used to enslave citizens and punish whoever rebelled against obedience.
Angering Saleh’s regime, Tawakkol Karman supported the Southern Movement, and attended several events and festivals of its own. In 2007, she gave speeches at al-Wafa Square in Dhale’ and Radfan attended by an unprecedented crowd of supporters, calling on Saleh’s regime to stop looting the wealth of the south.
She also lead a lot of campaigns and demonstrations against Special jails, marriage of minors, corruption.
Karman was imprisoned on several occasions in 2011. The most notable detention was on January 22, 2011 when she was arrested in the late night and sent to the prison of women, accusing her inciting chaos and disorder and undermining public social peace. Following very big protests in most of Yemeni provinces and a wide international solidarity with her, the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh found itself forced to release her.
Her home was exposed to raids and damage. She has exposed to several attempts of killing, most notably was a woman’s attempt to stab her from the back but she was saved by her supporters who could hold that woman.
She, along with her children, has been threatened with murder and death, most notably when the president Ali Abdullah Saleh contacted with her brother to threaten her brother with killing whoever goes out of his obedience. For years, she was subjected to a smear campaign of defamation. She always repeats that the death comes only once and that when it comes while you are defending a cause or making a change is better than it comes while you are asleep on the bed. She was always quoted by saying: “We do not fear of the future but we make it”.
Participation with NGOs:
As part of the efforts of civil society to address the increasing violations of human rights, Tawakkol Karman co-founded a civil society coalition called Umam (nations), which consisted of more than twenty organizations and civil alliances. Moreover, she co-founded the Yemeni Network for Human Rights with participation of a number of local organizations. The network played an active role in combating human rights violations in Yemen and advocating for political reform. Karman along with a number of active organizations formed the Yemeni integrity team affiliated to Transparency International (TI) to combat corruption and ensure integrity and transparency.
Tawakkol Karman has been known for her courage and courage as well as for her strict demands for both political and religious reform in the country. She is a member of the Islamic-oriented Islah Party’s Shura Council. But this did not prevent her from taking positions colliding with the party’s religious leaders, especially on issues related to women’s issues, such as women’s right to candidacy for elected councils and leadership positions, and the minimum age of marriage.
Accordingly, she is seen as among the most important figures of the liberal movement within the Islah Party. Coming into a bitter conflict with the hardline wing of the party, she leads a movement calling for a modern civil state. Therefore, some of Islah leaders see in her civil and human rights trend an embarrassment to their party, allegedly because it is not consistent with the Islamic methodology to have associations with foreign and non-Islamic organizations.
As for political and human rights struggle, Tawakkol Karman participated in the establishment of the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, which included political and social parties and personalities opposed to Saleh’s regime. She was elected to the General Secretariat headed by Mohamed Salem Basindwa, who later became PM (November 28, 2011 – September 21, 2014).
The Committee adopted what was known as the national rescue document that, among others, accused Saleh’s regime of destroying the pluralistic political system, damaging the democratic project and undermining the foundations of civilian life. The document also called for the establishment of a state of institutions instead of despotism.
Tawakkol Karman enjoys friendly relations with many opposition parties such as the Nasserite Party, Yemeni socialist party and the southern movement, and she participated in their various political activities, speaking at their public conferences, and was honored by them for her role in struggling against violations of human rights.
The Peaceful Revolution:
In all events and activities Karman organized or participated in, Tawakkol Karman pursued peaceful confrontation with the then regime. It was very clear that the purpose of these activities, which contributed to mobilizing people, was to bring about a radical change by overthrowing rather than reforming the regime.
With her faith in the peaceful struggle and protest movement years before the Arab Spring, Tawakkol Karman was able to make a political, social, cultural change in Yemen, not to mention that she managed to overthrow the president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
She could convince the Yemeni people, who possess more than 70 million pieces of weapons, of going into a peaceful revolution and holding roses instead of arms.
Despite the fact that the society in Yemen is conservative, she was able to convey a message that a woman could be a leader and decision maker through her insistence on continuing and leading peaceful protest movements. After years of daily and weekly sit-ins and protests led by Karman, WJWC’s activists and other activists of civil issues and human rights, millions of women took to the street to demand human rights and anti-corruption and call for the regime’s fall. “I was certain that our voices will reach to every home. It is time for Yemeni women to take part in the leadership of society and protection of Yemen,” Karman said.
On the evening of January 15th (2011), the day after Tunisia’s dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country, Tawakkol Karman decided to seize the moment. She enlisted several of her friends and students leaders to meet in the square in front of Sanaa University, and they soon gathered around a modernist statue called “The Wisdom of the Yemeni People.” Karman and the others cheered the Tunisian revolution.
The next night, more Yemenis showed up and marched to the Tunisian Embassy, calling on Saleh to resign. A week later, Karman became the movement’s leader, and hundreds of Yemenis—mostly students and recent graduates—stood with her in the square, calling for Saleh’s downfall.
Sensing the seriousness of her movements in the street and Karman’s ability to mobilize people to demand change, Saleh’s regime immediately resorted to arresting Tawakkol Karman. On the evening of January 22, 2011, as Karman was driving home from work, her car was forced to the side of the road by unmarked vehicles. A group of men, with no uniforms or I.D. cards, got out and took her away.
Yemeni Ministry of Interior accused Tawakkol Karman of “inciting chaos and disorder and undermining public social peace”, mentioning that the ministry is in the process of investigating her with a view to referring her to public prosecution to complete the investigation and take legal action. An official source in the government said that the arrest was ordered by the the Public Prosecutor’s Office, on charges of holding illegal rallies and marches.
The arrest of Tawakkol Karman sparked a large wave of protests that forced the authorities to release her on Monday, January 24, 2011. Immediately after her release, she confirmed to the media that she had never been investigated and that there was not any arrest warrant. This denial was later confirmed by the public prosecution as well.
Tawakkol Karman reaffirmed her determination to continue the revolution, no matter what the dangers. She kept organizing demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the regime. Detention and death threats did not deter Karman from continuing her struggle. After being released from prison, Karman called on parties, unions and all Yemenis to engage in a peaceful revolution in order to bring down the regime of corruption, failure and tyranny. She traveled to Taiz province and spoke to hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on February 3, calling them to be “the title and guardian of the peaceful revolution.
With the fall of the regime of Mohammed Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, protest demonstrations grew and expanded to include important areas such as Taiz that is Yemen’s largest province in terms of population, causing some to consider February 11 the real start of the popular youth revolution in Yemen.
Tawakkol Karman actively led and organizing demonstrations and rallies against Saleh’s regime. She became known for her passionate speeches calling for the overthrow of the regime. Over time, she eventually became the voice of the revolution, which was contacted and communicated with by the world and the Western media concerning the revolution and its demands.
Tawakkol Karman founded with group of youth and students what has become known as The Peaceful Revolution Youth Council with the aim of leading Peceful marches and revolutionary protests against the dictator Ali Abdulah Saleh. Following the official announcement of the council in the Change Square in Sana’a, many branches were launched in several important provinces such as Taiz, Hodeidah, Ibb, Hadhramaut and Aden provinces.
Given her prominent role in leading and calling for Yemen’s revolution, she was dubbed the mother of the revolution but also the lady of the Arab Spring especially after she was rewarded the Nobel Prize in 2011. Karman has been seen as an Arab icon for her defense of the values highly admired by the Arab Spring and for her contribution to combating autocracy. On the other hand, she was met with the hostility by the regime that resorted to conducting a series of smear campaigns against her. Moreover, she has become a target of the counterrevolutions and the military coups that have taken place in the countries of the Arab spring.
Tawakkol Karman co-founded the Organizational Committee of the Popular Youth Revolution, which included representatives of Yemen’s opposition coalition (JMP), as well as independent personalities. The organizational committee was entrusted with the task of organizing marches and demonstrations demanding the overthrow of the regime in all governorates, supervising the change squares across Yemen and evaluate the revolutionary and political discourse. Five months later, Tawakkol Karman along with her comrade of struggle Khaled al-Ansi, a political and human rights activist, left the organizational committee following disagreements with representatives of the political parties over restrictions on the revolutionary activity.
Tawakkol Karman decided to establish a new revolutionary entity to lead the marches and continue the revolution. With the participation of many youth activists, she founded what has become known as The Peaceful Revolution Youth Council with the aim of leading marches and revolutionary protests in mid-June 2011. The Peace Revolution Youth Council played a prominent role in calling for ongoing marches and demonstrations in order to overthrow Saleh’s regime.
Rejection of immunity & demand for transitional justice
Tawakkol Karman has continued to support female journalists and rally Yemenis against government corruption and injustice. Fiercely committed to change, Karman spent nine months in a tent in Change Square, where she kept leading peaceful protests for justice and freedom.
She strongly calls for equal citizenship not only in her country but also worldwide. She defines herself as “I am a universal citizen; the earth is my home land and humanity is my nation.”
- “I have always believed that resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence.”
- “Peace does not only mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice.”
- “The solution to women’s issues can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated, the energy of both women and men together.”
- “Freedom will not be attained without its due price and sacrifices. And the dignity to live free certainly deserves the highest price.”
- “With non-violence the journey to freedom is less bloody and more guaranteed.”
- “The biggest favors the world could provide to terrorism are: propping despotism, blocking the means of peaceful change, failing to support moderate religious groups, and dealing with all as “one size fits all”.
- “Despotism and terror are two faces of the same coin, feeding from the same swamp and sustaining each other.
- “Every dictator is a terrorist, and every terrorist is a dictator. And there will no path to the holy peace we aspire for, until dictators are swept away from our countris, and terrorists are deprived from abusing our religion.”
- “Those who ally with tyrannies, regardless of the justification, are not jeopardizing values only; rather they undermine their countries’ strategic interests, because tyrannies pose risk not only to their countries but also to the world.
- “Anti-tyranny is not only an internal affair, but also an international one.”
- “Rulers will go one day, but peoples will remain. Maintain good relation with peoples but not with rulers, with the free but not with the oppressors. This is the only safe path, and anything else is only an illusion.”
- “Behind every Great Revolution, there are Brave women”
- “In every liberation process and social change, courageous women were there to inspire men and women to face the challenge bravely”.
- “Peace within countries is no less important than peace between countries. A war is not just an armed conflict between parties. There is another type of war, which is much more bitter. It is the war that is the war of despots on their own people.”