Mideast: Karman, the smiling face of political Islam

07 February, 17:13

Nobel Prize Tawakkul Karman Nobel Prize Tawakkul Karman

(by Stefano Secondino) (ANSAmed) - ROME - Tawakkul Karman is the new face of political Islam. She wears a veil, but talks of democracy. She fights against despots, but preaches non-violence. She asks the West for respect, but at the same time wants to work together. She is religious, but no fundamentalist.

The Yemenite winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, heroine of the revolution that has driven out President-dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, represents the new political class that emerged from the Arab uprisings. Religious, but moderate (at least for now). A political Islam that has nothing to do with the Islam of the bearded terrorists who formed an obsession in Western public opinion after September 11, in the Bush era. An Islam that speaks of democracy and human rights, that was reduced to silence for years by the old secular dictators, relics of Arab nationalism, socialists when they were young and pro-Americans when they got old.

Tawakkul is 33 years old, married and has three children.

Daughter of a former Minister of Saleh, she has a degree in Political Science. As a journalist, she has been fighting for freedom of expression in her country for years. When the Arab Spring started, she became one of the icons of the movement in Yemen and was even imprisoned. She is member of the Islamic party Al Islah, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and embodies its more moderate spirit.

Yesterday and today she is in Rome, part of a mission to the U.S. and several European capitals. She is visiting the West to ask for support for her country's democratic progress, after Saleh was ousted (he left for the United States on January 22) and before the election of an interim President on February 21 (with only one candidate, the deputy of Saleh, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi). Karman was hosted in Rome by the Radical Party and by Emma Bonino, and has held talks with Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and President of Italy Napolitano.

''We young people of the Arab Spring understand that dictatorial, corrupt and ruinous rulers are blocking the formation of brotherhood between the East and the West,'' the activist said yesterday in a meeting in the Senate with Speaker of the House Renato Schifani and Premier Mario Monti. ''These rulers are the cause of a war among our people, they pose a threat to international stability".

She stays away from the usual anti-Western rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalists. The enemies are not Jews and crusaders in the eyes of Karman. The real enemies are the dictators who deny democracy and human rights, under the pretext of stability and the war on terror. ''Our revolution started with the fall of the dictator,'' she explains. ''Now we have reached the second stage, the transitional stage. We need new leaders of the security forces and must eliminate corruption.".

And Karman, beautiful and smiling, wearing a red flowered veil, has come to the West to ask for help on that point. The West must ''freeze the assets of Saleh and the members of his regime,'' must ''expel the Syrian ambassadors and must recall their ambassadors from Syria.".

Tawakkul does not forget to stress the importance of the role women play in the Arab revolutions: an implicit response to people who believe that political Islam denies women their rights. ''Women have taken a leading role in this revolution.

Women have been killed on the streets.... murdered because they were leading. Saleh said we had to stay home. But our answer has been: pack your bags, because women will remove you from power." (ANSAmed).

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