A message of freedom and dignity

Human rights activist discusses the role of women in the Arab Spring revolutions

By Nick Alexopulos, '03  |  Photos by Larry Canner

Prior to the Hanway Lecture in Global Studies on April 7, 2015, Loyola University Maryland seniors majoring in global studies had the opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman and ask her to share her insight on contemporary sociopolitical issues impacting the Middle East and beyond. What follows are brief reflections on those conversations from the global studies students and some of the most poignant quotes from Karman’s lecture.

“The essence of the Arab Spring is freedom. We have the right to live freely. It’s our duty. Life would be worthless if we gave away our freedom and dignity. We are ready to pay every price to be as we want, not to be as the dictators and the corrupted people want.”

—Tawakkol Karman

“She is somebody who is leading her people, making changes in the country she’s in; she saw something that she wanted to change and she acted, she didn’t just wait for someone else to do something or talk about it.”

—Avery Harmon, ’15
Waterbury, Conn.

“I can assure you with very high confidence that the Arab Spring will win in the end. I almost see this moment, the moment of the achievement of our dream. The dream of people who carry flowers in front of the violence of dictators, the dream of people who carry their voices singing in front of all the weapons… of [the dictators]. This battle is between freedom and dictatorship and corruption.”

—Tawakkol Karman

“She is a woman, and she is marginalized not only by her gender but where she was born and where she lives and by her society. I can be marginalized in the United States just by my gender as a female, but not to any degree where she could be marginalized. And I think that her ability to stand up against a patriarchal society is incredible. To be recognized for that is just as incredible. She perseveres, she doesn’t stop, even though every part of her society says that she should.”

—Briana Ciccarino, ’15
Westwood, N.J.

“Women in Arab countries, especially in Arab Spring countries, convinced themselves, convinced their society, convinced all societies around the world, convinced you, that they are very strong leaders. And the day and the era of women just doing traditional work, just staying at home, just cooking, crying in front of the TVit’s ended.

It’s the era of women to be on the front line. It’s the era of women to save their country and their society. Women in Arab countries decided to stop the era of being victims. She is the leader of revolution. She is the mother of revolution… in Syria, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Iraq now, in Libya, as well as in Yemen. She decided to raise her voice to topple the dictator.

Because of that, all the dictators were very, very afraid of women. The ousted president of Yemen made four speeches to women, just to convince women to go back to their home, just to convince women that religion tells her it’s haram, it’s forbidden, to participate with men, to walk in the streets with men. Women told him, ‘shut up.’”

—Tawakkol Karman

“This is such a unique experience. I have so appreciated the Hanway Lecture in the past two years with Tony Blair and Colin Powell, and the opportunity that has given to Loyola. I think that this is particularly exciting for our community to have someone who isn’t a man, isn’t from the West, who isn’t in a traditional position of political power. This is a different and exciting perspective for students who are passionate about social justice issues, and it’s not every day that you get to talk to a Nobel Peace Prize winner. To be able to hear right from her was just amazing.”

—Taylor Daily, ’15
Royersford, Pa.

“It took America many years to win its democracy and freedom. So we can’t tell people in Arab Spring countries, in Arab countries, in any country in the world, that they should have their revolution now, and they should gain democracy now. It’s unfair. They will have their peaceful revolution, they will reach their dream, but it will take time. It will take less time than America. Not because we are better than you, but because we learned from you. And because of globalization, people are not alone facing dictators and corruption. We are all one nation.”

—Tawakkol Karman

“She’s one person, she founded this whole movement that has a very large following, and she’s been able to spread information everywhere, which I think is really the crux of her movement.”

—Benjamin Abraham, ’15
Harriman, N.Y.

“Now we are facing a very dangerous counterrevolution. The militia [in Yemen] is destroying houses, destroying mosques, destroying schools. Iran supported the militia because they want to be the only power in the region, and they want to build their empire. Yes, we have obstacles, we have battles, we have wars, we have a very strong counterrevolution, but also we know that every great revolution has these problems. We are suffering, but we will not die. Even if our body dies, our dream will not die.”

—Tawakkol Karman

“What she has accomplished shows us that if you have something that you strongly believe in, you can make a difference even if it’s hard, even if it seems that the odds are insurmountable at times, and it shows that you really need to follow your convictions if you want to make the world a better place.”

— Madeleine Hodur
Chicago, Ill.

“We must believeall of usin human rights and freedom. And also we must believe that all political and all religious groups have the right to live with their faith without any fear. I believe that freedom will win in the end. Many times I was close to the death, but every time I felt myself get stronger.”

—Tawakkol Karman

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