Tawakul Karman and the Women of Yemen Who Stand For All of US


A Beautiful Yemeni Woman Protester

It’s no surprise that the Yemeni government brutally beat and injured numerous women celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakul Karman in the streets of the capitol, Sanna’a, today.   This same regime, led by the much vilified Ali Abdullah Saleh, has routinely attacked, injured, and killed peaceful protesters who have dared to speak out against it.   Earlier this year, the government kidnapped and detained Karman, abducting her off the street and holding her in chains for days.  Immediately after releasing her, Saleh’s forces arrested the lawyer who had been defending her, Khaled al-Anesi.

Tawakol Karman is the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and with good reason.  She might be called the Mother of the Arab Spring.  The 2005 co-founder of the feminist organization Women Journalists Without Chains has been leading weekly protests against President Saleh and oppression in general since 2008.  In April of this year, she wrote:

We are in the first stage of change in our country, and the feeling among the revolutionaries is that the people of Yemen will find solutions for our problems once the regime has gone, because the regime itself is the cause of most of them. A new Yemen awaits us, with a better future for all.

Although, or perhaps because Yemen is one of the worst places on earth to be a woman,  Yemeni women have played a significant role in the protest movement against this patriarchal regime.  As a recent essay in Al Jazeera explains:

Women are a sizeable part of the protest movement, and are visible throughout the various protest squares around the country, and on marches. Female protesters have stood atop government vehicles during protests, and faced water cannon and bullets. They have kept the field hospital running around the clock.

For this civil and entirely peaceful protest, women have been subject to tremendous abuse for a very long time. Karman’s arrest earlier this year was not the first time she had been harrassed by the 33-year regime.

Another Yemeni Protester. It is highly uncommon for Yemeni women to show their faces in public. Tawakul Karman did it, arguing that nowhere in the Koran does it say that women must veil their faces.

On Oct 12, 2010, government forces detained and harrassed Karman and other women who had gathered to object to unjust taxation and violent suppression of dissent across the country.  Women Journalists Without Chains reported:

Human rights defender Ms Tawakkol Karman was arrested and detained for three hours at Alolofi police station.  She was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment while in police custody.  Human rights defender Ms Bushra Alsorabi was reportedly beaten by four security men who tried to take her camera. She was hit with an unidentified object thought to be a rubber bullet or smoke projectile resulting in burns to her body and clothes. She was hospitalised in the Republican Hospital in Sana’a as a result of her injuries.

Police used their guns to beat participants, they also reportedly pointed their guns at various participants and threatened to kill them. Five other women participating in the protest were also injured, two of whom had to be hospitalised as a result of their injuries. Up to 35 persons from the Al-Ja’ashen group of displaced people were arrested during the protest and were taken to five different police stations.

President Saleh’s self-serving words of congratulations to his most famous critic were proven to be utterly false today, when his forces attacked peaceful women calling for change. Some of them argued for UN sanctions against the president and his family.  Catholic Online today reports that

As these demonstrations began to grow, eyewitnesses allege that government security forces emerged and began to attack the women. Dozens of women were injured in the subsequent violence in spite of the fact they were completely unarmed and peaceful. At least 38 women have been confirmed hurt and admitted to hospitals. Doctors say they were attacked mostly with rocks and batons.

Yemenis are saying that the government’s goal is to make people afraid to protest.

The following video is dated October 9, 2011.  It shows Tawakul Karman leading a demonstration against the government.

Today’s protest formed part of a Yemen-wide show of anger against the government for condoning or supporting recent violent attacks on women protesters in Taiz.   Saleh supporters pelted peacefully protesting women there with bottles and rocks yesterday  At least 50,000 women came out into the streets, where thugs and government hooligans harrassed and attacked them.  An estimated 40 women were injured, some by batons. More than 400,000 people gathered outside the hospital where the wounded were taken yesterday, to express their outrage at a government that passively condoned this violence.  Instead of understanding that its brutal policies only further inflame the discontent of its people, Saleh struck again at his people–this time hospitalizing another forty-odd women. How much blood will he spill?

When he learn?  And when will he step down? More urgently, why is the President of the United States seeming to cooperate with this criminal regime?  Although the US has officially called for his resignation, recent events, including the drone strike that killed Anwar Al-Alwaki, an American citizen, in Yemen, suggest that this administration has deepened its commitment to this corrupt government.  The US allegedly doubled military aid to Saleh’s government last year.

Here is another video of brave Muslim feminists in Yemen protesting President Saleh.

A government that represses and attacks its own citizens loses its legitimacy.  We aren’t surprised when we hear that Saleh has done it once again, but we should be a lot more shocked that we appear to be, and a lot more outraged when our own police forces brutally surpress peaceful demonstrators in Pittsburgh, target Muslims in New York, and harrass people who appear to be Hispanic in Alabama.

The women who brave thugs armed with bottles, batons, and tanks every day in Yemen deserve our respect, not only because they are standing up for their own freedom, but also because they are standing up for ours.  We are all united in our desire for peace, for dignity, and for civility.  I salute them.

Tawakul Karman and other Yemeni Activists

Yet Another Brave Egyptian Woman Standing Against Tyranny


Yesterday I received a message, indirectly, from Dr. Iman Bibars, in the form of a comment on one of my posts.  Dr. Bibars is affiliated with Ashoka, an organization that, in its own words, “strives to shape a global, entrepreneurial, competitive citizen sector.”   The Ashoka website explains that she holds a Ph.D. in Development Studies from Sussex University and lives in Cairo, where she has

dedicated her life to working with marginalized and voiceless groups: female heads of households in Egypt’s poorest areas, street children, street vendors and garbage collectors. She has also worked with UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, CARE-Egypt, GTZ and KFW.  Lastly, Iman is herself a social entrepreneur, co-founding and currently chairing The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, a CSO providing credit and legal aid for impoverished women heading their households.

Here is what Dr. Bibars has written to the world about Egypt:

What has happened in Egypt the last week or more is unprecedented and is a wonderful and revitalizing experience for all Egyptians who love this country. This is our first real people revolution and it is fueled by wonderful and great young men and women from all walks of Egypt. The liberation square has become a symbol for all our sufferings and also our victories.  I cannot claim that I have suffered as many Egyptians did and many of the young revolutionaries asked me why am I supporting them although I have been benefiting (their words) or have not been harmed by the old regime.  My only answer was that I loved Egypt and that to be loyal and patriotic to this country means that you want the best for her and you want her to be free and her people to be liberated and treated as humans.

For me Egypt is a she, a her and the mother of all Egyptians and the matriarch that has kept us all in her bosom and nurtured us whether we were grateful or not.   And what the regime of husni Mubarak and the security apparatus headed by the war criminal habib al adly have done to us and to the people of Egypt for 30 years is unparalleled in any other country.  The humiliation and destruction of the Egyptian character and the spirit of the people in a calculated and organized way took place for 30 years in a relentless and very evil way.

Egyptians stopped laughing or smiling from their hearts, you could see and touch helplessness and hopelessness among the old and the young.  Phenomena such as sexual harassment, looting and predominance of thugs spread because they were encouraged by the security that wanted to break the pride and self respect of all Egyptians.

The murdering and killing was not only of peoples bodies and lives but of their souls and spirits.  Corruption and lack of ethical fiber and self respect became the norm, became the traits most respected. I am as you all know quite mature (i.e. old) and have been here since the 60s and I have worked with the people and in the streets and was naïve enough to try  to enter politics believing that this country needed those who loved her and who would give more then they would take.

I was burnt and burnt hard and not only from the government but from the pretenders or those who played the roles of defenders of human rights or of the people but who in many cases found it lucrative to play that role. My mistake was that I always followed my conscience and what I thought was right and was neither extreme left nor extreme right.

What happened in Egypt during the last 5 years at least what I found out broke my heart and I started thinking and acting seriously to leave the country to go and live somewhere else. I did not feel there was any hope left.

But then on the 25th and when I was home and discovering the internet world , face book and you tube for the first time in my life, I also rediscovered Egypt, the Egypt I have read about and dreamed about. The brave and noble youth of Egypt have resurrected our pride and soul.  They have revived the real spirit and soul of Egypt.  They have taken away our shame of being so spineless and useless for decades.

They have and for the first time in our history carried a real people’s revolution at least during my life time. They managed to reveal the true face of our security and police forces, those traitors who abandoned their posts and allowed our children and families to die, be attacked and vandalized. Many of the looters and thugs were reported were associated one way or the other with the police.

They did not mind that mothers, elders and children be terrorized in a an effort to abort the revolution and scare all of the liberation square heroes away from their main battle.  They did not care  and frankly this is what the last regime had shown over and over again, that they do not care for us, for the Egyptians or for Egypt. That is why they should not stay, they should go , they should not be allowed to rule or govern as they are in reality traitors who hate us.

No one who loves his country and its people would have allowed the scandal and shameful behavior of the security forces not only in murdering and torturing the protesters but more so in terrorizing the kind people of Egypt by opening the prisons, and sending their own thugs to steal, loot and vandalize shops, homes and the nice and simple Egyptian families.

Now at this moment and after the maneuvers of the state , a peaceful transition of power is becoming less of a reality and clashes between the youth of Egypt, the real revolutionaries and those pushed and prompted by the state and the NDP is going on now. I just learned that the liberation square is completely blocked and the army tanks are around it and also blocking any means to go in or out.

The state TV is sending wrong images and stories and lying to the people of Egypt,  the regime and its NDP are sending thugs and some paid youth to start fights with the heroes of the liberation square and our youth are in deep danger.  They are being under siege now and are being attacked by disguised thugs and security forces, the army has blocked all inroads to the liberation square and the mercenaries of the regime are beating and attacking women, girls and young men whose only demand was freedom and liberty.

If we can reach all Egyptians everywhere and tell them that the revolution is not and will not be over, I met several young people and they said that they are willing to die for Egypt in the liberation square but we do not want to sacrifice those clean souls. Please lets all see a way to save them and tell  all of Egypt that the mercenaries of the regime are the ones taking to the street now and that no one should give up the demands for a better and more liberated and free Egypt.  Please do not believe the state TV  for there are no outside forces or traitors among the revolutionaries who wanted our pride and self worth and respect to return to us.

Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi: Brave Egyptian Feminist, in Liberation (Tahrir) Square


“I feel I am born again,”  Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi told an American reporter, who bumped in to her in Tahrir Square.  The 80-year old woman along with thousands of other peaceful demonstrators, was planning to spend the night in the square.  Like everything else she has done, this was a brave and bold decision.  Mubarak’s monsters, the secret police, were then roaming the streets with nail-studded boards, hunting photographers, journalists, and human rights activists, and beating anyone who tried to make it into the Square.

Dr. Sadaawi, a fierce feminist, novelist, medical doctor, psychiatrist,  has faced down imprisonment, death threats, attempts to strip her of her nationality, and the persecution of her family, all in the name of liberty for all human beings.   For nearly half a century she has campaigned against female genital circumcision– genital circumcision (a bloody practice in which a girl’s clitoris and inner labia are sliced off with a knife, often without painkillers).  Because she spoke out against this barbaric practice, and published a non-fiction book, Women and Sex, in 1972, that mentioned it, the Egyptian Ministry of Health fired her from her position as Director of Public Health.  The government charged her with crimes against the state and jailed her for three months in 1981.  Death threats in 1993 forced her to flee her country. She returned to Cairo in 2009.  Since then, officials frightened by her thoughts on religion have attempted, unsuccessfully, to strip her of her nationality and forcibly to dissolve her marriage.

She has long advocated the separation of church and state, arguing that religious beliefs oppress women and impede democracy.   She founded the Global Solidarity for Secular Society out of her conviction, which I share, that religion should be separate from all public education and laws.   In an interview with The Guardian, she explained,

I am very critical of all religions…We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.…

There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions…We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.

And what does feminism mean for her?

For me feminism includes everything…It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.

One of the most remarkable things about the phenomenon taking place in Egypt right now–and across the Arab world–is that the movement has no clear leaders.  What drives it is not a set of rules, or laws, or religious commands, but rather a something much deeper and more humane than this, something deeply human, the longing to be free, to be able to live peaceably with one another, to embrace, to love, to work, to eat, to walk, to be alive in the world without dictators, or oppressive rules that crush the spirit, without barbarism.  The people, men, women, old, young, have come together to celebrate the beauty of their connection to one another as Egyptians, yes, but also as human beings, each one of whom has an inherent right to dignity, to liberty, and to think for one’s self.

When asked, in 2009, why she continued to write and speak out so controversially, in spite of the persecution and the violence that has been her reward, Dr. Saadawi said,

I cannot stop. There is no way back.

The people of Egypt are calling for their freedom.  There is no way back.  The will die for their liberty.  How can we not support them?

Tawakul Karman Update


Yes, yes, it’s all very wonderful (and I sincerely mean this) that Tawakul Karman has been released from prison.  And I admire and respect her call for greater freedoms of expression and for her leadership of Women Journalists for Change.  It’s hard to stand up to a government that forces women–look at them–to shroud themselves from head to toe.  Look, it’s currently the fad in academic feminist circles to defend the veil and to stand up for it, which is kind of weird.

Obviously, women, all women, everywhere, ought to have the freedom to wear a veil if they want to, and I can understand the sense of freedom that one might have while walking around anonymously in public.

But the problem is that there we are not talking about women making the choice to wear the veil, but rather about a culture in which women who choose to take the veil off are made to feel like sluts.  Imposing the veil on women is an ancient way of manipulating and controlling women in public.

Are the women in the photo above, Tawakul Karman’s supporters, wearing the veil to dodge police cameras or for cultural reasons?  Either way, they are wearing it out of fear, fear of what would happen to them were they to show their faces and bodies in the world.  Are women are wearing the veil because they “choose” to, or because they fear what will happen to them if they don’t? Karman shed her veil.  Her followers may not have the luxury to do the same.

Just so you know where I stand, I think that the idiot-brained American bigots who have shamed Muslim women and girls in this country for wearing the veil are uncivilized barbarians and assholes who ought to be fined, jailed, and made to do long and tedious hours of community service for their crimes.  And the French!  The French have always been stupidly self-centered about their culture.  If a woman wants to drape herself in black, let her.  If she likes to cover her hair, so be it!  We don’t go after Orthodox Jews who cover their hair with wigs.  Why harrass Muslim women?  Let people be as they wish to be, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  And no one is hurt by my neighbor’s headscarf.

In response to more than 5,000 protesters, many of them women, Yemeni authorities released activist Tawakul Karman yesterday, but quickly arrested lawyer and human rights activist Khaled Al-Anesi, who had been defending Karman.  Al-Anesi was arrested as he tried to reach the attorney general to explain why Karman’s arrest was illegal.  Security forces rushed him and carried him, along with a number of other human rights activists, to prison.

Both Al-Anesi and Karman are reported to be in good spirits and hopeful for political change.  Speaking at a rally after her release, Karman said,

We will continue our struggle until regime change happens in our happy country. We will defend order in our country, we will defend the system, the constitution, the law. The Jasmine Revolution will continue until the entire regime goes.

Karman is pressing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has dominated Yemeni politics for more than 30 years, to step down.  Parliament has recently considered changing the rules of terms limits, which would allow Saleh to appoint himself president for life.

More than 1000 civilians protested the crackdown on freedom of expression outside the office of the general prosecutor. Among the protesters was Naif al-Qanes, a leader in JMP and the chairman of the political administration in The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.  He was beaten and arrested this morning.  [Source: Hood].

Where these protests for greater freedom of expression in Yemen will lead is hard to say. Saleh is clearly concerned, if not frightened by the civil unrest and the outrage that his government’s arrest of Karman has sparked.  This morning’s New York Times reports that President Saleh, perhaps in response to these civil protests, has raised military salaries and cut taxes in half.  A “Jasmine Revolution” that would bring about greater civil liberties and a more democratic government would certainly be a good thing, especially if such a government were able to rid itself of  Al Qaeda in the region.   The current administration in Yemen makes a show of cooperating with the US, but has not so far managed to rout the group out.

Yemen is a poor country governed by tribal powers and characterized by powerful, traditional cultural patterns.   It is an unlikely spot for the blossoming of calls for greater civil rights, freedom of expression, and greater civil liberties for women by women.  Tawakul Karman has blossomed here, and inspired thousands of women to follow her.  She leads an organization called “Women Journalists without Chains” in a society in which women are frequently silenced and shut away.

To say this is not to argue that American women, many of whom voluntarily enslave themselves to men for economic or emotional reasons, are significantly more enlightened.  Nevertheless the educational, political and economic freedoms for women are much greater in this country than they are currently in Yemen or many other Muslim countries. That American women fail to make use of these freedoms is quite another problem for a later discussion.

We are talking about Yemen.  We are talking about a culture in which women are expected to remain silent and in which we see women speaking out and calling for greater freedom of expression.  This is important.  I am writing about it because I am hopeful and because I admire this activist.  I remain troubled by her affiliation with Islah, an apparently fundamentalist party that would subject the country to a narrower, Muslim (Shariah) rule of law.  I worry that the rise of  this party could set women back.   But for now, this woman is not stepping back.