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'Yemen will become a strong nation'

Yemeni activist and Nobel Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman talks to DW-TV about life between oppression and revolution.

Tawakkul Karman

Tawakkul Karman is the youngest peace laureate ever

Peace activist Tawakkul Karman has been a key figure among youth activists in Yemen. She was a prominent critic of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh even before the mass uprising erupted against him in January. Since 2007, she has organized small-scale protests to demand greater rights for women and freedom of the press. The 32-year-old mother of three is the first Arab woman to win a Nobel prize.

DW-TV: What was the moment like when you first heard you had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Tawakkul Karman: At first, I didn't even know that I'd been awarded the prize. On that day, I was in my tent on Tahrir Square in Sanaa, in the midst of the demonstrators. I actually found out from the television that I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The joy was indescribable - both for me and for the other protestors - as the prize has such great significance.

So you didn't only share the joy - but also the prize - with the thousands of demonstrators who were on Tahrir Square?

Exactly. The prize is all the more important, because it's not just for me. It's also an honor for the peaceful, young people's revolution in Yemen. The demonstrators were oppressed by President Saleh in the worst possible way. Yet they resisted the machine guns of his security forces, without violence, though they did have access to weapons. People were shot in the streets while calling for peace. The Nobel Peace Prize is recognition of the Yemeni revolution, and the Arab revolution, as well as recognition of the very active role played by Arab women.

You're active in politics, journalism, human rights and women's rights. Is the latter the most important for you?

If you talk about human rights, then women's rights are obviously in the forefront because women make up half of any society. But I don't believe women should campaign for their rights solely as women. They should campaign for their home as a whole. Only then can they assert their rights in society. That's what women have done in the Arab Spring.

You're a member of the moderate Islamist, Islah Party, a conservative party that's close to the Muslim Brotherhood. But you're an emancipated woman. How can you reconcile that?

I'm an emancipated woman within the Islah Party.

Isn't that a contradiction?

I think it's extremely important for women to get involved in politics. Women have to fight hard to make their way into the upper ranks and maintain their position there. That's why I firmly believe that women should become members of political parties and that is exactly what I myself have done.

The agreement drafted by the Gulf Cooperation Council foresees the former governing party and the opposition parties sharing power in a transitional government in Yemen. What do the demonstrators say about this solution?

The agreement does indeed guarantee that we will see the end of Saleh's regime. But it also grants him and his followers freedom from any kind of prosecution. The demonstrators have rejected that. And they reject the agreement because they know that Saleh is lying. I don't mean to speak disparagingly about anyone, but it's a fact that Saleh did nothing but lie to his people for 33 years. He once admitted so himself when he said he wasn't governing, but rather dancing with snakes.

How do you see Yemen's future? What role will you, Tawakkul Karman, play in it?

The deal has been signed but Saleh won't honor the terms of the agreement. Yemen's future will be decided by the demonstrators on the streets. They will continue to power the revolution until we've reached our goal of having a modern, democratic and civil state. Yemen will become a strong nation - a nation whose people enjoy equal rights. That will serve to improve regional security and that doesn't just apply to Yemen. We all have a common dream: we want to topple the dictators. And we will realize this dream together with all those who are striving for freedom and dignity. The future belongs to the people.

Interview: Maissun Melhem, DW-TV Arabic
Editor: Sabina Casagrande

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