“The Islamists have changed. I am sure most of them represent people's voices”
It is not often that a Nobel Prize winner sits contentedly in an uncomfortable chair and while dipping a cookie in her tea describes the revolt that toppled an authoritarian head of state in one of the world's most conservative regions and predicts the fall of another one.
For the frail-looking Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakul Karman, who stood up to the regime of Abdullah Saleh, the unadorned room, with few frills and without an entourage must have been business as usual.
Her past two years have been spent in the unlikeliest of locations — makeshift protest camps in the centre of the Yemeni capital that none expected would last a month, prisons described in horrifying detail by Robert Fisk and refugee camps in Turkey where she shored up the spirits of women and children who had fled the fighting in Syria. All this has earned Ms. Karman — the youngest ever and the only Arab woman to win a Nobel Prize — the respect of men.
Her days are now occupied with keeping vigil as Yemen transits to democracy but she is also concerned about Syria where violence between the security forces and the opposition has gone on unabated for over a year.
“We are very much concerned about the situation in Syria. A lot of bloodshed has taken place and it is getting worse every day. Unfortunately, the international community has not been very decisive in stopping the bloodshed. That is why the Bashar regime continues its killing and oppression of Syrian people.”
Speaking to The Hindu, hours after the Friends of Syria decided to recognise and back the Syrian National Council (SNC), Ms. Karman has sought a buffer zone within the embattled country where innocent civilians can take shelter. However, she does not think the Friends of Syria meeting went far enough in taking measures that would put a stop to the violence.
“The results are below expectations, particularly for a gathering of 70 to 80 delegates with all of them saying that they are supporting the Syrian people. Particularly they should support a buffer zone,” she observed.
Titled the “Mother of the Revolution” and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee for “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights,” Ms. Karman put the role played by the social media in perspective.
“Facebook and social media helped a lot for those struggling for freedom. But TV channels also gave power to the revolution. Where there was more pressure the social media certainly helped. Like in Tunisia where even three to five people couldn't meet each other if they wanted to…through Facebook they could.”
“Some groups attack democracy. I don't excuse anybody but we have to give some space in democracy for every movement. Marginalise any movement and they are pushed to terrorism. They [Islamists] have changed. They are against my ideas and work but I am so happy they have entered the political life in Egypt and Yemen. They were against democracy but now they are in political life. I am sure most of them represent people's voices because when you are in opposition, you are closer to people.”
Asked why the building of democratic structures in Yemen was taking time, she pointed out that even in Europe true democracy took decades to build. “I am confident that the Arab world will take less time than Europe. I am sure we will not take a lot of time, Inshallah.”
In Yemen, the process of revolution should take its time. “We are not in a rush. We will continue our contribution till it fulfils all its tasks crowned by building a modern civilian regime. We were able to tackle Saleh's regime. Now there is no more possibility of its repetition. The second step is to reorganise and unify the Army which was affected by the uprising.”