Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Yemen, says that she is frustrated by what she sees as the “ambiguous” policies of the Obama administration toward the Arab Spring.
On one hand, she says, President Obama has made speeches supporting a transition to democracy in the Arab Middle East, and the administration appears to have backed popular movements for democracy in Tunisia and Egypt.
But in Yemen, Karman said in an interview Thursday, the perception is that the administration still has not detached itself from the authoritarian regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, which it has regarded as an ally in the war against terrorism.
“In Yemen it has been nine months that people have been camped in the squares,” she said, referring to the movement of mostly young people that has been pressing for Saleh’s ouster. “Until now we didn’t see that Obama came to value the sacrifice of the Yemeni people. Instead the American administration is giving guarantees to Saleh.”
In fact the Obama administration has called for Saleh to step aside and last week backed a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned violence against the protesters while urging the president’s resignation. But Karman, a 32-year-old former journalist who has been agitating against the regime since 2005, faulted both the Security Council and the White House for backing a plan under which Saleh and his family would receive immunity and power would be transferred to his vice president.
“There is no accountability for Saleh” in the U.N.-backed plan, which was developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Karman said. “Also, the GCC treats the revolt as a crisis of the regime, not as a revolution.” Her point is that Saleh’s departure should lead to the installation of an entirely new political system — democracy — and not a refreshment of the former regime.
Karman said that she traveled to Washington to make the argument to the Obama administration that it should break definitively with Saleh. It can do this, she said, by taking two steps: supporting the strongman’s referral to the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges and freezing his personal assets and those of his family. The United States adopted both measures in the case of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
“It is the obligation of the international community and the United States as the leader of freedom and democracy to stand on the side of the Yemeni people,” she said. “Saleh’s regime is over. It is just a matter of time. We, the young people, are the future, so it is in your interest to stand with us.”