Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman

Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (b. 1979) is a Yemeni joumalist, politician and senior member of the of Al-Islah political party, and human rights activist). She leads the group
“Women Journalists Without Chains,” which she co-founded in 2005. She became the international public face of the 2011 Yemeni uprising that is part of the Arab Spring uprisings.  She has been called the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” by Yemenis. She is a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize and the second- youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.

Karman gained prominence in her country after 2005 in her roles as a Yemeni journalist and an advocate for a mobile phone news service denied a license in 2007, after which she led protests for press freedom. She organized weekly protests after May 2007 expanding the issues for reform. She redirected the Yemeni protests to support the “Jasmine Revolution,” as she calls the Arab Spring, after the Tunisian people overthrew the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. She has been a vocal opponent who has called for the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime.

At a protest in 2010, a woman attempted to stab her with a jambiya but Karman’s supporters managed to stop the assault. According to Tariq Karman, “a senior Yemeni official” threatened his sister Tawakkol with death in a telephone call on 26 January 2011 if she continued her public protests. According to Dexter Fillcins, writing in The New Yorker, the official was President Saleh.

Tawakkol Karman is a member of the opposition party Al-Islah and holds a position on its Shura Council, which is a party position and not a parliamentary seat. Al-Islah is an umbrella party, which has expanded beyond it roots as an Islamic political party after it began to oppose President Saleh around 2005, but its core constituents are members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salatists. She has not aligned herself with either group and is a moderate in comparison. Karman, who claims independence from the party line, said, “I do not represent the Al-Islah party, and I am not tied to its positions. My position is determined by my beliefs, and I do not ask anyone’s permission.”

Karman started protests as an advocate for press freedoms in her country. At a time when she was advocating for more press Heedorn, she responded to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005 by writing: “We are not to call for tyranny and bans on freedom.” She stopped wearing the traditional niqab in favour of more colourful hyabs that showed her face. She first appeared without the niqab at a conference in 2004. Karman replaced the niqab for the scarf in public on national television to make her point that the full covering is cultural and not dictated by Islam. She told the Yemen Times in 2010 that: “Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for Women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance. This is the only way we will give back to our society and allow for Yemen to reach the great potentials it has Karman says she remains independent from foreign influences :

“I do have close strategic ties with American organizations involved in protecting human rights with American ambassadors and with officials in the U.S. State Department (I also have ties with activists in) most of the E.U. and Arab countries. But they are ties among equals (I am not) their subordinate. I am a citizen of the world. The Earth is my country and humanity is my nation. “

September 2015