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Last updated: 11:55:51 PM GMT(+03) Sunday, 08, April, 2012

Interview with Tawakkol Karman


Kaushal Lakhotia, STAR News Correspondent

New Delhi: Nobel laureate Tawakkol Karman, 33, is in India to deliver the 5th Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial lecture in New Delhi. She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first Arab woman to receive it. She spoke to Kaushal Lakhotia about a host of issues currently facing the Arab world.

Q. What brings you to India? What do you expect from this trip?
A. I am here to listen, learn and visit the country that gave the most important value to the world which is non-violence. The country of Mahatma Gandhi, Babu Jagjivan Ram gave the world the non-violent methods of protest. They taught us how to struggle for non-violence, human rights and anti-corruption in a peaceful way. I am here to thank all Indian people for being this great country, for being the greatest democracy of the world. I am so proud to be here. I expect to learn a lot here and give this expertise to Arab countries and especially to the people of Yemen.

Q. You are the youngest recipient of Nobel Peace Prize and you are also the first Arab woman to have got this award. What does this mean to you?
A. It means a lot. I don't think that Nobel Peace Prize is only for me. Through me it's being given to all those who dream for freedom and dignity. Before this our voices did not reach the Western countries and to the people around the world. Nobel Peace Prize means that our voice is being heard. It means they listen to us, they understand us and a new world will be built on respect and without dictatorship.

Q. You have inspired millions of people around the Arab world. How did this revolution start? What prompted you to mobilize people against President Ali Abdullah Saleh?
A. We have suffered a lot from dictatorship and discrimination. Our country was destroyed in front of us economically, security wise and so on. The crisis became bigger and bigger. What do you expect from us in this situation? Should we just see it, watch it, observe it and cry about it? The answer to this is no. We wanted to be a part of the solution not the problem. When we decided to be a part of the solution we asked ourselves what could be the solution? What can we do? So we chose the non-violent method of protest. That (protest) was the only way to end dictatorship and corruption in our country. We want to live together with the people of West, East, North and South. All of us want to be the part of this new and small globalization. This is when we said enough is enough. We said no to people like Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Bashar.
They make our countries unsafe. They give a bad image of our country. So going against them was the first step. Now the second step is to build the nation. We will include the values of peace, non-violence in our constitution, dialogue, elections and economy.

Q. You are also a politician. You represent the opposition party Al-Islah. There is criticism that some of your party members have close links with fundamental groups like Muslim Brotherhood. Some of your party members also had alleged links with Al-Qaeda. How do you react to that?
A. First of all, I want to say that I am not representing the opposition party Al-Islah. I represent women movements, youth movements and peaceful revolution. All Yemenese people and people in Tunisia, Libya, Syria did not go under the umbrella of their party or ideology. All of them decided to build their country by changing the regime. You can't say that Tawakkol or any youth who participated in that revolution was because of Al-Islah. It (the clarification) is very important to me. But I also want to say that Al-Islah is not fundamentalist or extremist.
I would say that no party in Yemen could be called Islamic. All Yemeni people are Muslims. So all the parties like Social, Al-Islah, Nasiri, Qaumi are pragmatic. All of them have been part of the revolution. I think there are more extremist people outside my party than inside. Extremists are fed by dictatorships to save their chairs. On the other hand I believe extremist people participating in any political movement are very important. I think when they participated in political life; they become realistic and realise that it is very important. We have to encourage the extremists to participate in public life, to be realistic and not marginalize them. Whether they are from right or left, you have to encourage every movement to be the part of political life.

Q. Can we expect you to be the president of Yemen someday?
A. This question is often asked to me. Most people in Yemen want that. Even before revolution they used to call me Queen, President and things like that. Even when we were discussing about who would lead the country during this transitional period, I refused. I know Yemeni people will accept a woman as their president. But will I accept? I think the answer to this is no because I am so near and so close to the people. I want to listen to them, observe the government and say what is right, what is wrong. I don't like to be in power.

Q. You have stopped wearing traditional Naqabs. You wear colorful Hijabs. You have opposed conservative Islamic practices in Yemen. Could you be called the modern face of Islamic women? A. I feel that I practice my values, my religion in a right way. Not only Islam or Hinduism, every religion has value. Don't say that religion is against democracy or human rights. There are some people who are bad but not the religion.





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