Yemen: Where in the World is Tawakkol Karman?

On the brink of losing their country, Yemen needs a leader now more than ever before.

Tawakkol Karman joins the march

Saudi Arabia, enthusiastically funded by the United States, has spent most of 2015 and 2016 haphazardly bombing Yemen, and the mainstream Western media refuses to cover these attacks.

The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen began with Yemen’s attempt to peacefully transition power from Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy Mr Hadi following the 2011 Yemeni Uprising. Mr Hadi was a weak president, and the power vacuum created by his taking office gave the Houthi rebels an opportunity to begin seizing power and territory in Yemen over the course of the next few years. Saudi Arabia, sharing a border with Yemen, feared that the Houthi rebels were backed by Iran and launched an attack in order to keep them from attempting an invasion of Saudi Arabia.

The United States has a policy of providing arms deals to multiple Middle Eastern countries, and Saudi Arabia is no different. In 2010, The United States under President Barack Obama authorized a sixty billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia- the largest in US history. In August of 2016, the Obama administration approved a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, continuing a tradition of buying access to Saudi decision making through military assistance.  In October, the United States escalated its support of Saudi actions by bombing Yemen itself.

For all of the expensive and high tech equipment that Saudi Arabia has purchased from the United States, their aim is surprisingly ineffective. Nearly 1/3 of all Saudi air strikes have hit civilian sites in Yemen, and the casualties are growing by the day. Yemen’s situation is growing more dire by the day, and the media silence of Western nations has made it clear that there is little hope for external assistance, so Yemen must look within for any chance of survival. 

In order to solve Yemen’s current predicament, it must look to those who have helped it during past struggles. One woman in particular, Tawakkol Karman, has the global influence and personal connection necessary to speak out and make a difference in the region. Karman earned the title ‘Mother of the Revolution’ during the 2011 Yemeni Uprising of the Arab Spring. She was deeply involved in Yemen’s struggle to overthrow Ali Abdullah Saleh and turn to a more democratic form of government, all the while avoiding violence. Tawakkol Karman was, in 2011, deeply concerned with the preservation of Yemen as a state, and engaged herself in the protests because she felt that political policies in place at the time were destroying the country. She was even willing to suffer through being arrested in order to defend the cause she believed in.

Her influence in Yemen earned her a Nobel Peace Prize and international recognition, while her public denouncement of Saudi Arabia and private pleas that they help her struggle for revolution have earned her some critics. One writer states that “To outsiders who know little about Yemen, Karman is a peacemaker. But in Yemen, she’s widely perceived as a power seeker and she works for the biggest and most ambitious of king makers. As soon as she was given access to the halls of power, she started to act like a political elite and not a grass roots activist.” 

Since the end of the 2011 revolution, Karman has involved herself elsewhere, particularly in gaining Turkish citizenship and protesting in Ankara. She has said little about the crisis in Yemen, yet she is one of the few people with the credibility and connection to make her voice heard. If the Western media will not speak about these injustices, Tawakkol Karman and others like her must speak up if they wish to retain their country. 

Considering the mainstream media’s lack of discussion of the situation in Yemen, very few sources provide a clear sense of what is happening in the region, and even fewer will speak out about how to save it. Some sources, such as Time magazine, choose to refer to it as  a civil war, and ignore the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The Washington Post interviewed Tawakkol Karman about the current Yemeni situation, and she adamantly stated that “We are not responsible for the failures, neither me nor the youth of the peaceful revolution.” She consistently stated that the international community has the power and “the prime responsibility [to rescue] the transitional process in Yemen” and build sustainable peace. Tawakkol reiterated that she does not feel responsibility for the current situation in Yemen, despite being the Mother of the Revolution and accepting a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the area. Perhaps her critics who have called her “a political elite and not a grassroots activist are not so wrong in their claims.

She has proposed an initiative to make peace in Yemen, but has made no tangible strides to defend her country from external forces such as Saudi Arabia or the United States. Tawakkol Karman and others like her must be called upon to make their voices heard again and defend all of the Yemeni people who do not have enough international influence to make a difference.

Student Author: Amanda Christensen, Champlain College Psychology Major ’17

Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D., UVM Faculty Advisor


Amanda Christensen is a third year Psychology major at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. She has interests in forensic and child psychology, as well as autism and the medical field.
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