Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman was the most prominent leader of the 2011 revolution in Yemen, part of the wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world five years ago and led to the ousting of longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize — the first Arab woman to receive the honor — in recognition of her work.
At the time, Karman called the award “a victory for our revolution, for our methods, for our struggle, for all Yemeni youth, and all the youth in the Arab world — in Tunisia, in Egypt, everywhere.”
Today, Yemen is gripped by a devastating war and a humanitarian crisis, and Karman lives in exile in Qatar. She spoke to The Washington Post about the plight of her nation. Her comments have been condensed and lightly edited.
It’s been five years since Yemen’s revolution. How do you feel about the situation now?
We accomplished a peaceful, great revolution in February 2011, followed by a transitional consensus government. … We drafted a new constitution that ensured all values and principles that we fought for — values of freedom, justice, equality, democracy and rule of law … and just before the referendum on this new constitution that was to be followed by general elections … everything turned upside down. War has caused unprecedented economic crisis and deteriorated humanitarian situation in Yemen, where all basic services — electricity, health, education and others — have collapsed, rendering majority of population in dire need for immediate humanitarian aid!
What went wrong?
Let’s be honest, all have committed mistakes, nobody can deny that. … The first and foremost mistake is granting ousted president Saleh impunity against all crimes he committed in the past, and allowing him [to be involved] in political activities … The other serious mistake is allowing the Houthi militia to expand control over other territories with force and oppression.
What are you doing these days?
I’m still continuing my peaceful struggle to end war in Yemen and to reinstate pre-coup positions … move forward to achieve the peaceful revolution’s values.
Who is behind the crisis in Yemen?
The major and principal responsible is ousted president Saleh and military unit loyal to him, and the Iran-backed Houthi militia allied with him. Secondary responsibility lays with the international sponsors, and poor performance of the transitional power.
What can the international community do to stop Yemen’s bloodshed?
The international community can do everything, and in fact bears prime responsibility for rescuing the transitional process in Yemen, and in building sustainable peace.
When you received the Nobel peace prize, how did you think it would affect Yemen and its people?
I do believe that Nobel Peace Prize and our peaceful revolution, our dreams for freedom, democracy and social welfare will bring good to our country, and will lead us to countries that have achieved such values. We’ve been trying to achieve these objectives, and we are still struggling for that. We are not responsible for the failures, neither me nor the youth of the peaceful revolution.
Are you disappointed by the turn of events and current situation five years later?
I feel very disappointed, and deep sadness about the turn of events. Yet I’m confident that we will win and achieve what we’ve struggled for, we still have the dream. Dreams never die.