Ahmed Al-Haj,Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Sanaa, Yemen -- She is known among Yemenis as the "iron woman" and the "mother of the revolution." A conservative woman fighting for change in a conservative Muslim and tribal society, Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman has been the face of the mass uprising against the authoritarian regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The 32-year-old Karman has been an activist for human rights in Yemen for years, but when she was arrested in January, it helped detonate protests by hundreds of thousands demanding the ouster of Saleh and the creation of a democratic government.
When the Nobel announcement was made Friday, Karman was where she has been nearly every day for the past eight months: in a protest tent in Change Square, the roundabout in central Sanaa that has been the symbolic epicenter of the revolt.
"This prize is not for Tawakkul, it is for the whole Yemeni people, for the martyrs, for the cause of standing up to (Saleh) and his gangs. Every tyrant and dictator is upset by this prize because it confronts injustice," she said from her tent. With the award, the Nobel committee gave a nod to the Arab Spring, the wave of uprisings that have swept the Middle East, forcing out the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
In Yemen, millions have been turning out for protests in the capital, Sanaa, and cities around the country since late January. Still, Saleh has determinedly refused to step down.
Karman and the other young activists who have led Yemen's uprising have created a movement that is unique in this impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where tribal allegiances run deep, and much of the public is religiously conservative. Like the majority of Yemeni women, Karman once wore the niqab, the conservative Muslim garb that covers the face with a veil and hides the body in heavy robes, leaving only the eyes visible. But last year, she changed to a more moderate headscarf, covering just her hair - she said she wanted to be "face to face with my activist colleagues."
Karman had organized protests and sit-ins as early as 2007. She campaigned for greater rights for women and an end to harassment of journalists, heading Women Journalists without Chains, an organization advocating for press freedoms.