Mrs. Tawakkol Karman’s Interview by CEIP

Under the Biden administration, do you expect an American role to end the war in Yemen?

I don't want to demonstrate exaggerated expectations, but some signs indicate that the new US administration will be different from under Trump. Personally, I am optimistic that the Biden administration will be ready for political and diplomatic action that puts an end to the Yemeni suffering from the war and helps Yemenis find a solution to it and restore the State so as to complete the political transition, and devote themselves to overcome the effects of the war. It is known that the Trump administration used the war in Yemen as a bargaining chip in its deals with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. I think the new administration has the ability to activate the role of the United Nations to push for a serious and effective solution to the war. I believe that mobilizing international pressure led by the United States on the warlords and their leaders in the Saudi-Emirati coalition and the Houthi coup militias in Sana'a is one of the most important keys to ending the war in Yemen.

Everyone now knows that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ambitions in Yemen. Thus, the continuation of the war and the maintenance of the Houthi militia’s control over Sana'a are in the interest of the coalition’s hidden agenda. The Houthi coup continues to exist under indirect Saudi sponsorship through its destruction, siege and guardianship of Yemen, and this in itself, along with Iran’s declared and undeclared support for the militia, further empowers the Houthis. As part of the destructive Saudi and Emirati policies, the coalition sponsored another coup in Aden and many other governorates liberated from Houthi control, and then these areas were handed over to militias affiliated with the coalition States but hostile to the Yemeni legitimacy.

The coalition prevented the Yemeni president and his legitimate government from exercising its duties from inside Yemen, and its ambitions have manifested themselves in Socotra, Balhaf gas facility and oil installations, not to mention its affiliated militia in the western coast and port of Mocha. This bleak picture of the coalition’s role makes the need to put pressure on it a major entry point to ending the war in Yemen and enabling Yemenis to regain their State.

I can say that the restoration of the Yemeni State and the political process only passes through adequate pressure forcing Saudi Arabia and the UAE to withdraw from Yemen, lift the siege, and stop all forms of guardianship and domination over it. The United States could also play a prominent role in all of this. I think there are both a real chance and great hope under the new US administration to assume such role. However, the US role will not be sufficient if we do not all strive to deal positively with this change in the US administration. Saudi Arabia and Iran are managing the Yemen war in their own interests, not including an end to the suffering of Yemenis and the return of their State. We need real support from the international community to stop this suffering. The solution, as I said, is to stop the war and restore the legitimate Yemeni State to complete the transfer of power according to the three references: UN Security Council Resolutions on Yemen, Power Transfer Agreement (the Gulf Initiative), National Dialogue Outcomes.


After the war is ended and a transitional period operates, how do you envision its beginning would look like according to the principles and aspirations of the 2011 revolution?

The power transfer agreement represented by the "Gulf Initiative" and the National Dialogue outcomes was a product of 2011’s popular revolution, thus becoming a main reference for the restoration of the legitimate State in Yemen, strengthened by the relevant UNSC Resolutions that affirmed the end of the coup and respect for Yemen's security, stability and unity. After this fascist war on our people, the completion of transfer of power, the referendum on the new constitution and elections are our road map agreed upon. The forces captive to the past and hostile to democracy, republic, unity and revolution have clumped together, waging their war against Yemen as a whole. The forces of the counterrevolution at home, alongside Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, have targeted the popular revolution, the republic, and Yemeni unity. I believe that Saudi Arabia and Iran are hostile to Yemen. But, though antagonistic to each other, they are driven by the same desire of extending their influence over the Yemeni territory torn out between their affiliated militias, and whose population is subject to a siege, starvation, tearing, displacement and all-out war.

This war aimed at tearing Yemen apart and reviving the medieval rule of imamate and the colonial era in form of the Houthi coup and the Saudi guardianship, which has been rejected by our people. For us, an end to the war means the return of Yemen and its united federal State. What we refused under the force of war would never accept through a false peace legitimizing the Saudi-Emirati guardianship and the Houthi coup and tearing our country and homeland apart, as such a peace is nothing but a continuation of the war. 


What roles do you think today's warring political parties will play in the future? How will they move from rupture to unity?

First, the political entities are not parties to the war. The war erupted because the Houthi militia conducted a coup against the State and the political parties, taking over the capital and other governorates. The Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen served as a prime rib of warlords and their leaders. Today we have the Houthi militia in Sana'a and the coalition-backed STC militia in Aden. These militias will have to lay down their weapons and accept the return of the legitimate State and, alongside the other forces and parties, go to a comprehensive national dialogue to develop a road map for a return to politics and dialogue and an end to violence and fighting.

The war has failed. These militias have provided people with nothing but death, starvation, displacement and dependence on the outside in favor of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, rendered them insecure, and turned their cities into ghettos and prisons subject to humiliation, oppression and looting. The time has come to put weapons aside, act within the orbit of interests of Yemen and Yemenis, and reject every foreign guardianship over our country. 


Given the separatist southern movement, how do you see the future of South Yemen and are you with the idea of its independence?

Let me first correct some terms you mentioned. The militias called “the STC” were established, backed, and armed by the UAE, with the support of, or at least facilitated by, Saudi Arabia. These militias doesn’t represent the movement that was active in the pre-2011 period, as the latter today no longer exists as an actor in the southern governorates. These militias are unwelcome in most southern cities and governorates like Hadramout, Shabwa, Abyan, Al Mahrah and Socotra. In the governorates of Aden, Lahj, and Al-Dhalea, they are met with the people’s refusal after their hollow slogans, misconduct and incredibility during their control over these three governorates became clear to people. These militias set off a new conflict with the pro-government forces in Shabwa and Abyan, reliving painful memories of the southern division and the January 13th war in 1986. It took the intervention of hundreds of Emirati armored vehicles under UAE air cover to bomb the south-majority military unit of Yemeni army on the outskirts of Aden, with a crackdown on the popular uprising within in order for the STC militia to maintain control. 

The most in the southern governorates stand for the Yemeni unity away from coercion and oppression, as under Saleh’s fallen regime. The majority of southerners are with a Yemeni state that maintains security and stability, preserves their rights, protects their dignity, and fulfills their aspirations and hopes for equality, justice, job opportunities, access to services and economic recovery, rejecting every Saudi-Emirati guardianship and the UAE-backed STC militia used against them and the legitimacy.


What impact did your Nobel Peace Prize win have on Yemen? Do you have any contributions amid division, fragmentation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions?

I am a part of my country and fellow citizens with and thanks to whom I could make my name that later received an international recognition through the Nobel Peace Prize, and also thanks to the struggle for dignity and for freeing both male and female members of society from tyranny and oppression.

I was only a model for the massive popular and societal movement sparked by the peaceful popular uprisings on February 11. Upon my Nobel Prize win, every Yemeni woman considered it a symbolic honor for her, just like done by those participating in the popular revolution when they saw in the reward a recognition for their free will and in honor of them. Just as that was also a tribute to and a prize for Yemen, it was also a recognition and appreciation for non-violence of the Arab Spring.  

As a progress was being made towards real elections and political transition, the counter-revolution reared its ugly head. Today we are fighting to bring it down. We have been encountered by both Saleh’s long-standing regime and the Houthi militia that Saleh let rise from ashes. We have also been met with brutality of Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which declared war against the Arab Spring revolutions. Although both are at odds, they the same position towards the popular revolutions as a threat to their theocratical regimes ruling in the name of Shiites and Sunnis. Saudi Arabia saw in the Yemeni revolution a threat to its prolonged stagnation, throwing its weight, money, and international alliances against us, our country and our revolution.

Today I carry with me the voice of my country and fellow citizens to different international events and conferences I participate in and to all my meetings and lectures in universities, and to conversations with government representatives, and participations with international civil society organizations and networks.

Participated by male and female comrades sharing the same concern about our homeland and human rights, I have founded several organizations that run under my command, including International Tawakkol Karman Foundation, Women Journalists Without Chains and Belqees TV. Our activities and events cover rights and freedoms, media and journalistic work and humanitarian and charitable work for war-affected societal sectors and groups that need help, in addition to political activism in support of our national causes and the concerns of our people.


Yemeni critics say Tawakkol Karman has done nothing for peace in Yemen, and that you always take strict and sharp positions without pushing for settlement and reconciliation, so what is your response? 

Our non-violent revolution achieved peace in Yemen. During the four post-revolution years, Yemenis had enjoyed freedom and peace before Yemen fell victim to a large regional conspiracy involving Iran and Saudi Arabia backed by international powers. Accordingly, peace in Yemen should be the responsibility of the international community and the major international sponsors of the transitional process in Yemen. It doesn’t make sense for Tawakkol Karman alone to be responsible for peace. My role is to call on my people for dialogue, peace and a return to political consensus, use all my means of pressures for this regard and let this be known to the international community to assume its responsibility.

I take strict and sharp positions in favor of justice, freedom, dignity, human rights and public freedoms, in favor of peace and the end of the war, which can be achieved in my view by lifting the Saudi-Emirati guardianship over Yemen and stopping Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s deadly machine that keeps bombing and destroying Yemen. I take strict and sharp positions against the Houthi sectarian coup supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a coup that opened the door to war and Saudi aggression against Yemen. I take strict and sharp positions against the UAE occupation of Socotra and Perim Island. I take strict and sharp positions against Saudi Arabia's arrest of the Yemeni decision-making and its use of legitimate officials to legitimize its guardianship and efforts to divide Yemen. I take strict and sharp positions against human rights violations in Egypt by the Sisi regime. I take strict and sharp positions against the liquidation of opponents who are subject to killing or whose bodies to chop saw, as was the case with the free Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside his country’s consulate in Istanbul by order of Saudi leaders.


What has changed in and left of Tawakkol Karman, who went out in the 2011 demonstrations and was considered Yemen’s revolutionary symbol, and earned the title “The Arab Spring’s most rebellious woman”?

Tawakkol Karman has not changed, but challenges did; as ever, she aligns herself with her people, with justice, equality, democracy, rights, freedoms and the modern state. These are the goals Yemenis sought in all their national struggles during the past century.

I am still convinced that our country, Yemen, and our greater Arab homeland needs to get free of tyranny, sectarian regimes, religious extremism and terrorism. Without democracy and the rule of law, this will never be achieved. Tyranny, dictatorship and corrupt monarchies have produced terror, poverty, and the collapse of state and society. They fell in 2011 and have no future. Counter-revolutionary wars are taking revenge on our peoples, but dictatorships and corrupt monarchies are not the future our peoples wish for. All of these have proven to be failure, and fell. Thus, the future is ours, not theirs.

Tawakkol Karman, like the Arab Spring revolutionaries and vanguards, dreamed of and struggled for freedom. This dream and the struggle for it will continue to exist as long as dictatorships enslaving our peoples and failed and corrupt governments plundering and seizing resources of their countries and throwing their peoples to the bottom of poverty and deprivation. We will remain and continue the great struggle, as peoples' dreams never die and revolutionaries neither forget nor repent of their revolution. In the end, our peoples will enjoy freedom and prosperity together.


What role do you think you can play for a more stable future in Yemen? Are you seeing a pivotal role for Yemeni women to play in transitional phases and finally in the democratic transition?

If you are referring to power, an offer was made for me after the 2011 revolution to hold a position but I refused. I find myself among people, in working for human rights and public freedoms, fighting for women's rights and gender equality, and promoting peace in our country and around the world. I have my own activities and organizations, as above-mentioned.

Just as I am part of the feminist movement fighting for women's issues at home and at the regional and international level, I am also part of the struggle movement of our people for dignity, justice, equality, the rule of law and democracy. I will work for women to have an effective presence and fair representation in the post-war phase, and I will be in support of every effort to enhance women’s status and role in my country, Yemen, and across the Arab countries and the world.


What is the most important lesson you learned over the past ten years?

The harshest lesson I learned is that Western regimes are not concerned with human rights issues in our Arab region. Rather, they prefer dictators over any democratic government, and by doing so they act in a way that denies all the principles that Western civilization has proclaimed, adopted, advocated and established upon; talking here is about regimes, not about peoples. Without any regard for Egypt’s human rights file nor any conditions in favor of rights and freedoms, French President Macron recently announced during Sisi's visit to Paris that France would support Sisi with weapons. Macron is not an exception among Western regimes in this matter, as he was speaking on their behalf without authorization. I had never expected that there would be a dichotomy between Western principles and their behavior in this shameful manner. The lesson was very harsh. The counter-revolutions in our region did not occur far from the blessing of the Western regimes and without a green light from them. Nevertheless, I still rely on Western civil society, supporters of rights and freedoms, and the intellectuals and the media to support us. 


What changes do you expect Yemen and the region to witness during the next ten years?

Our peoples will continue their struggle for freedom until they cross over into the banks of free peoples and enjoy freedom, democracy and well-being. There will be other rounds of the Arab spring, which will keep taking place until our peoples achieve their dream. This is what I expect. I cannot specify a timeframe for this to happen. However, the struggle will keep going on, growing and extending until none of the region’s tyrannical, failed, and corrupt regimes remains unaffected.

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