2011 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Tasneem Jamal

Author
Tawakkol Karman

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2012 Volume 33 Issue 1

Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist, founded the organization Women Journalists Without Chains. In 2011 she became one of the leaders of peaceful demonstrations in Sana’a, Yemen, campaigning against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and for democracy, women’s rights, and religious tolerance. At 32, she is the youngest laureate in the history of the Peace Prize.

What Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the art of living in harmony” is the most important art we need to master today. In order to contribute to that human art, the Arab states should make reconciliation with their own people an essential requirement. This is not merely an internal interest, but also an international one required for the whole human community. The dictator who kills his own people doesn’t only represent a case of violation of his people’s values and their national security, but is also a case of violation of human values, its conventions, and its international commitments. Such a case represents a real threat to world peace.

Many nations, including the Arab peoples, have suffered, although they were not at war, but were not at peace either. The peace in which they lived is a false “peace of graves,” the peace of submission to tyranny and corruption that impoverishes people and kills their hope for a better future. Today, all of the human community should stand with our people in their peaceful struggle for freedom, dignity, and democracy, now that our people have decided to break out of silence and strive to live and realize the meaning of the immortal phrase of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, “Since when have you enslaved people, when their mothers had given birth to them as free ones.”

When I heard the news that I had got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in my tent in the Taghyeer square in Sana’a. I was one of millions of revolutionary youth. There, we were not even able to secure our safety from the repression and oppression of the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. At that moment, I contemplated the distinction between the meanings of peace celebrated by the Nobel Prize, and the tragedy of the aggression waged by Ali Abdullah Saleh against the forces of peaceful change. However, our joy of being on the right side of history made it easier for us to bear the devastating irony.

Millions of Yemeni women and men, children, young and old took to the streets in eighteen provinces demanding their right to freedom, justice, and dignity, using non-violent but effective means to achieve their demands. We were able to efficiently and effectively maintain a peaceful revolution in spite of the fact that this great nation has more than seventy million firearms of various types. Here lies the philosophy of the revolution, which persuaded millions of people to leave their weapons at home and join the peaceful march against the state’s machine of murder and violence, just with flowers and bare breasts, and filled with dreams, love, and peace. We were very happy because we realized, at that time, that the Nobel Prize did not come only as a personal prize for Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, but as a declaration and recognition of the whole world for the triumph of the peaceful revolution of Yemen and as an appreciation of the sacrifices of its great peaceful people.

I would like to emphasize that the Arab spring revolutions have emerged with the purpose of meeting the needs of the people of the region for a state of citizenship and the rule of law. They have emerged as an expression of people’s dissatisfaction with the state of corruption, nepotism, and bribery. These revolutions were ignited by young men and women who are yearning for freedom and dignity. They know that their revolutions pass through four stages which can’t be bypassed:

  • Toppling the dictator and his family
  • Toppling his security and military services and his nepotism networks
  • Establishing the institutions of the transitional state
  • Moving towards constitutional legitimacy and establishing the modern civil and democratic state.

Thus, the revolutions of the Arab spring will continue through the effort of youth, who are ready and prepared to launch each stage and to fully achieve its objectives. Today, the world should be ready and prepared to support the young Arab spring in all stages of its struggle for freedom and dignity. The civilized world should, immediately after the outbreak of the revolutions of youth, commence the detention and freezing of the assets of the figures of the regime and its security and military officials. In fact this is not enough, since these people should be brought to justice before the International Criminal Court. There should be no immunity for killers who rob the food of the people.

The democratic world, which has told us a lot about the virtues of democracy and good governance, should not be indifferent to what is happening in Yemen and Syria, and happened before that in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and happens in every Arab and non-Arab country aspiring for freedom. All of that is just hard labour during the birth of democracy which requires support and assistance, not fear and caution.
 
© The Nobel Foundation 2011

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