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2011-12-13

"The Arab People Have Woken Up": Yemeni Activist Tawakkul Karman Accepts Nobel Peace Prize

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The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented this weekend to three women for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." Democracy Now! aired highlights on Monday of the acceptance speeches of Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female head of state on the African continent. Today we complete our coverage with the acceptance speech of Tawakkul Karman from Yemen, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as its youngest winner to date. Karman, a 32-year-old mother of three and an outspoken journalist and activist, has agitated for press freedoms and staged weekly sit-ins to demand the release of political prisoners from jail. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains and has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy in Yemen. Most recently, she has led rallies in the protests against the rule of the longstanding U.S. ally, President Ali Abdullah Saleh. "The Arab world is today witnessing the birth of a new world, which tyrants and unjust rulers strive to oppose. But in the end, this new world will inevitably emerge," Karman says. "Our oppressed people have revolted, declaring the emergence of a new dawn in which the sovereignty of the people, and their invincible will, will prevail. The people have decided to break free and walk in the footsteps of civilized free people of the world." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: "Agolo" by Angelique Kidjo. Angelique Kidjo performed at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that took place on International Human Rights Day this past Saturday, December 10th. The awards went to three women activists, political leaders, for, quote, "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." On Monday, we aired highlights of the acceptance speeches of the Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee as well as the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female head of state on the African continent.

Today we complete our coverage with the acceptance speech of Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as its youngest winner to date. A 32-year-old mother of three, an outspoken journalist and activist, Karman has agitated for press freedoms and staged weekly sit-ins to demand the release of political prisoners from jail. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains, has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and democracy in Yemen. Most recently, she has led rallies in the protests against the rule of the longstanding U.S. ally Ali Abdullah Saleh.

This is a part of what Tawakkul Karman had to say in her Nobel acceptance address.

TAWAKKUL KARMAN: [translated] Ladies and gentlemen, the revolutions of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and the movement towards revolutions in other Arab countries, such as Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan and others, in terms of motivation, driving power and objectives, did not take place on isolated islands cut off from all the rapid and astonishing changes which our world is witnessing. The Arab people have woken up just to see how poor a share of freedom, democracy and dignity they have. And they revolted. This experience is somewhat similar to the spring that swept through Eastern Europe after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The birth of democracies in Eastern Europe has been difficult, and victory emerged only after bitter struggle against the then-existing systems. Similarly, the Arab world is today witnessing the birth of a new world, which tyrants and unjust rulers strive to oppose. But in the end, this new world will inevitably emerge.

The Arab people who are revolting in a peaceful and civilized manner have, for so many decades, been oppressed and suppressed by the regimes of authoritarian tyrants who have indulged themselves deeply in corruption and in looting the wealth of their people. They have gone too far in depriving their people of freedom and of the natural right to a dignified life. They have gone too far in depriving them of the right to participate in the management of their personal affairs and the affairs of their communities. These regimes have totally disregarded the Arab people as a people with a legitimate human existence and have let poverty and unemployment flourish among them in order to secure that the rulers, and their family members after them, will have full control over the people. Allow me to say that our oppressed people have revolted, declaring the emergence of a new dawn in which the sovereignty of the people, and their invincible will, will prevail. The people have decided to break free and walk in the footsteps of civilized free people of the world.

All ideologies, beliefs, laws and charters produced by the march of humanity through all stages of its development, as well as all divine messages and religions, without exception, oblige us to support oppressed people, be they groups or individuals. Supporting an oppressed person is not only required because of his need for support, but also because injustice against one person is injustice against all mankind.

Ladies and gentlemen, what Martin Luther King 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 does not 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 up 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 Umar ibn al-Khattab: "Since when have you enslaved people, when their mothers gave birth to them free?"

Ladies and gentlemen, when I heard the news that I had got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in my tent in the Tahrir 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 18 provinces demanding their right to freedom, justice and dignity, using nonviolent 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 70 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 Tawakkul 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.

And here I am now, standing before you in this solemn international ceremony. Here I am, in this unique moment, one of the most important moments of human history, coming from the land of the Arab Orient, coming from the land of Yemen, the Yemen of wisdom and ancient civilizations, the Yemen of more than 5,000 years of long history, the great Kingdom of Sheba, the Yemen of the two queens Bilqis and Arwa, the Yemen which is currently experiencing the greatest and the most powerful and the largest eruption of Arab Spring revolution, the revolution of millions throughout the homeland, which is still raging and escalating today.

This revolution will soon complete its first year since the moment it was launched as a peaceful and popular revolution of the youth, with one demand: peaceful change and the pursuit of free and dignified life in a democratic and civil state governed by the rule of law. This state will be built on the ruins of the rule of a repressive, militarized, corrupt and backward family police rule, which has consistently brought Yemen to the edge of failure and collapse during the last 33 years.

Our peaceful and popular youth revolution is not isolated or cut off from the revolutions of the Arab Spring. However, with all regret and sadness, I should note that it did not get the international understanding, support or attention of the other revolutions in the region. This should haunt the world’s conscience, because it challenges the very idea of fairness and justice.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 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, and moving towards constitutional legitimacy and establishing the modern civil and democratic state.

Thus, the revolutions of the Arab Spring will continue through the efforts 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, commence the detention and freezing of the assets of the figures of this 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 in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and happens in every Arab and non-Arab country aspiring for freedom. All of that is just hard labor during the birth of democracy, which requires support and assistance, not fear and caution.

AMY GOODMAN: Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as its youngest winner to date, a 32-year-old mother of three, an outspoken journalist and activist. Tomorrow, we will play her concluding remarks, the speech she gave on Saturday, December 10, 2011, International Human Rights Day, in Oslo, Norway.

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