Yemen in Crisis: A Conversation With Tawakkol Karman

Thursday, April 12, 2018
Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman of Yemen looks on during a news conference in Guatemala, October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria
Tawakkol Karman

Founder and President, Women Journalists Without Chains

Rachel B. Vogelstein

Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

This spring marks the third anniversary of the conflict in Yemen, which experts warn could lead to the worst humanitarian crisis in half a century.  Tawakkol Karman joins us with a report from the front lines to discuss prospects for peace, the role of nonviolent movements, and women’s participation in security efforts.

This meeting is part of CFR’s New Strategies for Security Roundtable Series, generously supported by the Compton Foundation.



VOGELSTEIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I lead the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which analyzes how elevating the status of women advances U.S. foreign policy objectives. I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Compton Foundation for their continued support, including for our roundtable today.

We gather this afternoon to discuss the crisis in Yemen. This spring marks the third anniversary of the conflict, which the U.N. warns could lead to the worst humanitarian crisis in half a century. This conflict has led to thousands of deaths, caused millions to flee their homes, and has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Today we are fortunate to have pioneering leader and Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman. Mrs. Karman is a human rights activist, a journalist, a politician, and the president and founder of Women Journalists Without Chains, an NGO that promotes freedom of expression, and civil rights. She is the first Yemeni and the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of her work to advance women’s rights and participation in peacebuilding efforts in Yemen. Since receiving the award, she has continued to support female journalists and rally Yemenis against government corruption and injustice.

Today she will talk with us about the conflict in Yemen and reflect on prospects for peace, the role of nonviolent movements, and women’s participation in peace and security efforts.

We will begin with her formal remarks, and then move to an open discussion. Please join me in welcoming Tawakkol Karman. (Applause.)

KARMAN: Thank you so much. (Speaks in Arabic.)

Peace be with all of you. I’m so happy to be with you here in my council—the Council on Foreign Relations, and I’m so happy to speak with you about what is happening in Yemen.

And first of all, I want to start my remarks that—with this very important beginning, that I will repeat some facts that you may have an idea about, but for building up a clear picture of what is going in Arab Spring in general, and in Yemen in particular.

The Arab Spring taking place in some Arab countries were neither a fleeting whim, nor unjustifiable, reckless event. It was an urgent and inevitable need for the region’s people, because they were suffering from failed, corrupt and tyrannical regimes that proved their inability to carry out any political reforms and appeared only to plunge their people and countries into abyss.

Later on, the Arab Spring, and especially Yemen, found we—people in Arab Spring countries, and especially in Yemen—found ourselves as never in the face of unprecedented local and global obstacles, plots and counterrevolutions. I can give many examples in this regard, and you can come gradually to this fact with a little investigation and research.

What happens is that there are counterrevolutions that commit to a different kind of crimes, with a different kind of shapes—military coup, militia, occupation, et cetera. I would like here to assure you that the Arab Spring revolutions, sooner or later, would erupt again, as long as there are corrupt, failed and tyrannical regimes, as long as they’re sectarian and family rulers that take over power and wealth. This is what I wanted to tell you before I enter to the Yemen situation, or Yemen Spring revolution.

As most of you know, or all of you, I think, that our great peaceful revolution in Yemen had a great dream. Millions of people took to the street squares, and the squares of change and freedom, demanding for peaceful—for change peacefully. They remained there for a whole year until they could finally overthrow the despotic President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This peaceful popular uprising, in turn, resulted in a peaceful political transition during which a consensus president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, was chosen, and consensual government were formed.

In the meantime, all parties engaged in a comprehensive national dialogue, where all outstanding issues and problems were extensively discussed. After nearly about one year lasting dialogue, we came up with results, including proposals and visions agreed by everyone, in accordance with what was agreed upon at the National Dialogue Conference. A draft constitution was drafted. All this took place within two years of the launch of the transition process, and with the participation of the Houthi militia and the ousted president party.

A comprehensive national dialogue participated by all Yemeni parties resulted in a set of outcomes that could have helped build a sustainable peace and build a new Yemen, a democratic Yemen, Yemen that we aspire for and sacrifice for—freedom, justice, equality, and rule of law.

But, unfortunately, only few weeks before that referendum on the draft constitution according to which various elections would have been held, the Houthi, with a limited support from the Iran and the ousted president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, they led the counterrevolution. They started the journey in Yemen of the counterrevolution. They occupied the capital, Sana’a, and they occupied some other governorates. They moved across the country, occupying various towns and cities, and taking over local governments, killing, abducting, and forcibly disappearing tens of thousands of civilians, politicians, and activists.

The forces of the counterrevolution have shut down newspapers, satellite channels, and radio stations, banning political parties, human rights organizations, and civic groups, and confiscating their headquarters. The U.N. Security Council subsequently adopted two resolutions, including rejecting the coup measures and demanding that the Houthi militia withdraw and relinquishes control of cities and areas, hands over weapons, and abandon the state institutions after six months. This coup happened—and this is very important to know—that the war in Yemen started on September 2014, when the coup happened. After six months, on March 2015, another war came—another war which is the war what they called the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia—and we call—it’s led by Saudi and Emirates. So they started their war. They announced the formation of an Arab coalition to restore Yemen’s legitimacy.

But what happened? During three years of war in Yemen, the Saudi-led Arab coalition has become an occupying power. A Saudi and UAE are doing everything possible to complicate the situation in Yemen. I can say that there is a very clear Saudi-UAE occupation of Yemen. They have betrayed Yemenis and used the coup by the Iranian-back Houthi militia as an excuse to impose an ugly occupation and total control over the country. It has become clear that the coalition of Saudi and Emirates is lying, deceiving and implementing a special hidden agenda that has nothing to do with the decision of the—with the resolution of the U.N. Security Council or of the helping Yemen to restore their legitimate president and legitimate authority. Remember that Saudi Arabia has interfered in Yemen under the pretext to restore the legitimacy and support the internationally recognized President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is barred now from assuming his responsibility as a head of state and from returning to the temporary capital in Yemen, which is Aden. He is denied his right to respect just like any other head of state. Only a few weeks ago, Abdelaziz Jabari—he is the vice prime minister—he resigned and demanded for dealing respectfully with President Hadi. Saudi Arabia and UAE are acting in a childish way, exploiting the bad situation of Yemen.

And let me here give you some information. Houthi militia is controlling about 20 percent of Yemeni territories, meaning that 80 percent is not under their control, is liberated provinces. I believe that you expect that the remaining 80 percent of the territories is under the legitimate authority as the Arab coalition, Saudi Arabia and UAE announced that they will help the legitimate authority to return to Yemen and to rule Yemen. So—and the Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led Arab coalition has handed over these wide territories and governorates to the legitimate authority, and has undertaken all necessary measures to rebuild the security and military institutions, and reconstructed the state institutions that have been damaged by the coup and war. You may expect that. It is the normal course of events, and it is what is required from the coalition who waged the war in Yemen to support and to restore the legitimacy. Alas, you will be disappointed, and your expectation will fail.

President Hadi and his government are in Riyadh, banned from returning to the interim capital Aden, or to any of 80 percent territory which is no longer under Houthi control. And it is Saudi and Emirates forces and their militias that they formed under different titles and enabled them to control different territories and governorates that banned them. They are in Riyad now, President Hadi and his government—almost under detention and under house arrest. UAE and Saudi Arabia established many militia loyal to them—armed, funded, and administrated them. They are against the legitimate authority, and they didn’t recognize—this is very important—they are against the legitimate president, and they didn’t recognize the outcomes and the requirements and the tasks of the transitional period. They have now occupied our islands, coasts, airports, and seaports, and refused to hand them over to the president, the government, and the local authorities. They also controlled oil and gas resources, preventing Yemeni authority to export it. And they are exporting our gas and oil without coordinating with the legitimate authority.

This is the situation after the three years in brief, and this is what are the U.N. Panel of Experts to say in their report, that Yemen turned in to small states. These countries, Saudi and Emirates, which lays on seas of oil and wealth, gives 80 percent of the population of Yemen under famine, under disease, according to the UNICEF report, and could not do—could do nothing to combat this famine or provide tangible humanitarian aids. Public servant was not paid for more than two years. People are deprived from medications. Killing is on civilians due to the nonstop bombing that reached markets, hospitals, camps, weddings, mourning halls, schools, almost everything in Yemen. Those survived bombing, the Saudi and Emirate refuses to treat them. Or those die, nobody care for their families. A tight land, air and sea blockade. Only one—only one plane is allowed daily for a population of almost 30 million people.

Now the question is, did the Arab Coalition led by Saudi and Emirates return the 80 percent of the country? Did they defeat the coup? Or did they add another more coups and another more rebels? The obvious answer to everyone—not to Yemenis only—is what has been achieved is the reverse agenda of restoring the legitimacy and defeating the coup—not the declared agenda and objective when war intervention was launched.

The other question is being that an international deficit by the Arab Coalition led by Saudi and Emirate, and failure that they did not expect, or was it result of pre-planned objectives and international plans to reach into this unfavorable result? Did you—did you understand this phrase, or my language was broken? We can’t claim that it was unintentional result due to the Arab coalition led by Saudi and Emirate ignorance or lack of knowledge with the Yemen nature, or it is not a bad intention from their side. It is difficult to accept such probability, where Saudi and UAE didn’t make this destructive policy with predetermination, and they were disregarding all demands, warning and advices provide by coalition locally, regionally, and internationally.

What they do—what do they want from Yemen? This is a big question. What do they want from Yemen? They have made the coup. They have from the beginning. They supported the coup of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the militia of the Houthi. Iran was very happy about that, and then become after. But the real—the one who led the coup in Yemen was the Saudi and Emirates. They had made the coup, sponsored it as part of their plan to defeat our peaceful revolution. It was their plan to defeat all Arab Spring revolution. They are against the change. They are afraid from our successful—and our national dialogue or our answer to the referendum for the constitution. So they are afraid from the result of our winning our peaceful revolution and our peaceful transition.

Now they are sharing influence and domination over Yemen. This couldn’t happen by coincidence or brought by goodwill. They want a failed Yemen where they can occupy the geopolitically significant territories and to control the important islands, straits, and coast, and to impose their influence. And that will not happen with a stable country. That will just happen if Yemen remain—or if Yemen fall under the war.

So here, what is the solution that we are calling for? This is the situation, and what is the solution? And before talking about the solution, I want to tell you that the international community also participate in this deterioration, in all Arab region, in all Arab Spring countries, either with their silence or with their complicity. They allow Iran and Iraq and Iran and Saudi and Emirates to destroy the will of people, to destroy the dream of people, to destroy their peaceful struggle, to create another terrorist groups. So they allowed them. So we charge the international community big part of the responsibility.

Now, what is—how can we reach to the sustainable peace in Yemen? Saudi and Emirates should hand over all ports, all airports, islands, and coasts to the legitimate authority, as represented by the president, Hadi, and his government—or to any government agreed upon by Yemenis—and under the supervision of the U.N. to manage the remaining transitional period, and that is very important. Any authority should manage the remaining transitional period tasks. All the tasks, all the outcomes that we did before the coup should be completed. This is a very important point. Demobilize all militias and hand over their weapons to the national army loyal to the legitimate government. Let them locate and stop airstrikes, and limit their support to the—again to the militia.

Any other acts will be considered as illegitimate acts, and aggression against Yemen have led to enable any entity, militia, or individual to control any part of Yemen, and such entity was not loyal to the transitional process, and approves it as an authority end project of Yemen. Our Yemeni people held you—all of you—the accountability, telling you that you should do a lot. You should stop this war. You should stop this coup. And you should know that Yemen easily can reach to the sustainable peace. But you should be courage on telling the truth, on pointing the finger to those who are destroying our countries and wanted to stealing—to steal our future.

Finally, I want to say something very important—and sorry for my English, if I make some problems to you. But I want to emphasize a very important thing: that every great revolution followed by counterrevolution, by an angry counterrevolution. And the winner in the end is the people, and you as American people know that very much. You didn’t reach to this democracy that you are happy with—I know that you’re not happy now—(laughs)—to the democracy or prosperity without the sacrifices of your grand-grandfathers and your grand-grandmothers, without the sacrifices and the pain of the founders of the United States—and the same thing with the West.

So we are facing the same pain. We are facing an angry counterrevolution. So facing the counterrevolutions is just one step in the path of the revolution that has emerged a natural outcome of the turning wheel of history, that seeks no one’s permission, doesn’t accept retreat, don’t fear challenges, or sacrifices. Those who ally with tyrannies, regardless of the justification, are not jeopardizing values only; rather, they undermine their—rather, they undermine their values and their country’s strategic interests, because tyrannies pose risk to the world, not to their countries only. Risks created by the tyrannies and the power backed them are transboundary. Therefore, combatting despotism is not a local affair only. It is equally an international affair. Rulers will go one day. You should remember that. People will remain. Reconcile with the people, not with the rulers; with the liberators, not the oppressors. This is the only safe way. Other(s) are mere delusion. Freedom is stronger than tyranny and all powers backing them. We will liberate our countries and we will establish a state of freedom, justice, democracy, and law. This is our destiny, and this is our promise to our people.

Finally, regarding the Houthi militia, Houthi militia unfortunately—I don’t want to describe them as a fascist group, but they are. They should not be allowed to possess weapons under any justification. Yemen will remain in instability unless this militia and other militia is subjected to the Security Council resolutions. It must be this militia and other militias. I’m not talking about Houthi militia only. Maybe if this meeting was before two years, maybe I would talk just about Houthi militia. Now the country—there is Iranian militia, which is Houthi. There is Saudi militia, which is—how can—you can’t count. Yemen will remain in instability unless this militia be disarmed and subjected to the law.

I wonder what do you think of Hezbollah? We will create Hezbollah in Yemen if we let the Houthi militia or other militia to keep all their weapons and to be participating in the government. I’m not here calling to eliminate Houthis who staged the coup that destroyed the country and exposed it to foreign intervention. Yet, I call for restoring the politics which is against arms. We don’t Houthi militia, we don’t want security belt militia in the South. We don’t want Nokhba militia also in the South, or anywhere, or in Taiz or anywhere. We don’t want militia. The only body that should control the weapons is the state.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

VOGELSTEIN: Well, thank you so much for those remarks, for your leadership, for your passion, for your vision.

We have many experts in the room who’ve been following the situation closely. I know we’ll have a lot of questions, so we will move right to our discussion. If you’d like to ask a question, please raise your placard, state your name and affiliation, and we’ll get to as many as we can.

Please. Please use your microphone. Thank you so much.

Q: (Inaudible.) It’s nice seeing you after all these years.

A very simple, ordinary question: Can you explain how life is in Sana’a, daily life in Sana’a?

KARMAN: The daily life in Sana’a, as it is in other countries, other cities—again, sorry for my English—people are—under the blockade, people are suffering. And it is not fair just to focus about the situation in Sana’a and don’t speak about the situation in Taiz. All Yemen suffer from the blockade. All Yemen suffer from both militia for al-Houthi, supported from Iran, Saudi and the Emirates coalition. And there is another governorate which is Taiz. Taiz face two blockades—the blockade of militia of al-Houthi and the blockade of the Saudi and Emirates coalition. So all Yemeni people under a real huge humanitarian crisis.

As I said, the famine is there. The disease is there. Lack of education is there. Lack of access to water is there. The killing every day is there. So this is the situation in Sana’a and other cities. So when we talk about Yemen, we should talk about all Yemen. We shouldn’t divide between Sana’a and others, because all of them, they are suffering.

VOGELSTEIN: Ambassador Verveer. Go ahead; it’s on.

Q: Melanne Verveer, Georgetown.

Tawakkol, I remember years ago, in the heady days of the revolution, the hopeful revolution, you had said to me the women were asleep, but now they are awake and they will never go back. What has happened to those women? And what are you still trying to do through communications, through other efforts, to keep hope alive during these very difficult times?

KARMAN: Yes. I told you this and it was before the entering to the transitional period. And we approved that when we entered to the transitional period, because the Yemeni women, as they led the revolution, they also led the transitional period in all its details. We were in the highest committee of the preparing for the national dialogue. We were in the—we were more than 30 percent of the—in the national dialogue itself. We were like 30 percent in the writing the draft of constitution. So we were—we make the future. We make the decision as women. So we didn’t ask men, you know, the other parties, without women represented in their body, nor to give the solution for women.

No, we were there in a very effective way. And the most important thing that women make as a result, inside the constitution. So all what we suffer from and call for the reforms for women, calling for rights for women, et cetera, et cetera, we made it in the constitution, in the draft of the constitution.

So the draft of constitution has many things that guarantee the women’s right. And first, when I talk about women’s right, I start with the human’s right, with the civilians’—(speaks in Arabic)—civilians’ rights. So when we wrote the constitution that guarantee the good governance, that guarantee the democracy, that guarantee the transparency, that guarantee the rule of all, all this, this is—first we protect that woman’s right.

Second, we put a constitution article, we put that the right for—(speaks in Arabic)—30 percent should be for women in all the institutions. And this is—this is in the constitutional—in the draft of constitution. So we did a great improvement. We made it something. It is right. That’s something we will ask in the future.

Also, we prevent, for example, the early marriage. We prevent it. And we made the father or mother or anyone of the family that will be participate in this kind of early marriage, he will be—face the accountability. He will face the trial.

And third thing, we also determined the age of childhood, 18 years old. So, as I said before, so this right, it’s not something given. It’s something taken. And we took it through our leadership against the dictator and through our leadership in the transitional period and also our participation in the writing the constitution, and also before that in the national dialogue.

Now what is the situation of women after the coup? Now our dream, the draft of constitution, until now we couldn’t make referendum for it. If we make the referendum, that will transfer Yemen from the past to the future. This is the most important solution for Yemen, putting this constitution in the referendum. That’s what the currently—that women, as men, are really suffer from the coup, from the war. Every—they are—(speaks in Arabic). It’s the most humanitarian crisis in the world now. And women paid these prices two times, children two times that were there.

So all the outcomes that we did through the peaceful revolution and through the transitional period, now it’s been collapsed by the counterrevolution, by the interfering of Saudi and Emirates and Iran, by militia of al-Houthi, and ousted President Ali Saleh, and by your silence. You didn’t do enough for helping Yemeni or for implementing what you promised Yemenis. You promised us. I remember.

I met the ambassador of the U.S. many times. He promised me, Tawakkol, if you—if this Gulf initiative, you as peaceful revolutionary approve and deal with us, it will take you to the future. We will—we will protect it. Yemen should be the success story. But you left us alone. Really, you left us alone. And we didn’t make any mistake; just calling for freedom, justice, and democracy. And we made a great peaceful revolution, and we did a great—all our commitment in the peaceful revolution, we wrote it in the draft of constitution.

So why—this is a question. Why did you ally—allow—why did you allow the ousted president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the militia of al-Houthi to make the coup in Yemen? Ask yourself. Maybe somebody will say, no, we didn’t. I will tell you did. Why did you until now, Saudi and Emirates, killing Yemeni people, and until now you didn’t make a great effort against them to stop their war while you can.

So I believe in the role of the international community. No one said that I can’t—no one. Anyone said no, I can’t. I said you can. There is a lot of things that you can make it, a lot of (bridges ?), a lot of solutions that you can make it. The most mistake that you made, that you let the people lose their hope, then asking where is al-Qaida, where is terrorists?

So we give a big solution to the terrorism. We give a big solution to the most important thing, to terrorism, to extremism. But now you made complicity with the coup in Egypt, until now Sisi, under your sponsorship. And in Yemen, Saudi and Emirates can buy United States with some money, or other West. Mohammad Salman came to—that is—really, it’s shameful. It’s shame on all the human being. It’s shame on the United States.

And, believe me, one of the most important things that I came here and I accept the invitation of the university is this meeting. We will not give up. We promised our people that we will reach to our freedom and justice and democracy. And this a noble value. And our people says seven years, seven years, been attacked by the Saudi, Emirates, and Iran and the powers behind them.

Who’s the powers behind them? Ask yourselves. I remember my meeting like this and my sacrifice when I tell all the people in my country and around the world. I tell them West is with us. U.S. is with us. Don’t think that they will betray us. Don’t think. No, they will—Obama said we are with your dream and with your sacrifice and we are behind you, et cetera, et cetera. But the reality, that was dream from me. And I still dream.

So I’m telling you, wake up. Please wake up. Don’t lose the hope of the people and don’t lose our belief in you. Don’t lose that, because we—again, your benefits, your interests with the people who are sacrificing for freedom and justice. And don’t think that those ruler will give you this interests. They are collapsing their countries and they are collapsing the security of the world, the peace of the world.

Believe me, the future is with us, with our next generation, with our kids. So help us on making our countries democrat, on facing all this tyranny, and you will see how we are so kind, how we are so—believe on partnership. We can make—we can defeat the terrorism. We can guarantee your interests into our countries. But believe on us. Don’t believe that Saudi, or the rulers, or Sisi or they are your allies.

Again, I’m sorry of my—how can I say it? But this is the reality. You should know that if Yemen—if this coup didn’t happen, all this deterioration wouldn’t happen. And if you really were serious on saying no to this coup and didn’t give any kind of green light with any kind of—I don’t know—they will not be—(inaudible)—there to make it; even Saudi and Emirates. If you now tell them stop your influence in Yemen, they will stop it. But until now, nobody ask where is President Abdrabbuh Hadi.

So it’s a very big question. When you—and they said, OK, the peaceful—the government make dialogue, and that’s it. No, it is not that’s it. It is not that’s it. If you want to make peace in Yemen, we should free our decision. Our decision is kidnapped by the Saudi, is kidnapped by Saudi. Saudi declared that they are supporting the legitimate president. Why President Hadi now in Riyadh? Does President Hadi has the will or the ability to say—to start the dialogue or to stop it, to start the war or to stop it? No, he doesn’t have. He doesn’t have any—he doesn’t have the power.

So, again—(speaks in Arabic)—to those people who speaks—the political decision—the Yemeni political decision is kidnapped by the Saudi and Emirates. If you want this solution—the problem in Yemen to solve, the president should return to Yemen. And the militia that’s supported by Saudi and Emirates should be disarmed and stopped. He has to go to the free land and rule Yemen, and then he will take the decision of war or stopping war. But now he doesn’t have this decision.

Thank you. Other questions?

VOGELSTEIN: When we were talking earlier and outlining the challenges, you mentioned that you still feel very optimistic.


VOGELSTEIN: Can you tell us why?

KARMAN: Because you are here listening to me. (Laughs.) I’m still optimistic because I really still believe on your conscience and on the values of all human being and of all the values of United States and of West that one day you will wake up and one day that you will admit that you did a big mistake on letting those people in Arab Spring died in front of their tyranny and allowing the counterrevolution to win.

And my second reason to be optimistic, because I know this winning of counterrevolution is fake winning, fake victory. It will just—how many times, how many years that they will really continue their victory. It’s no, always people, always people win the battle of freedom and justice and democracy. I know very well the history of your United States. I know very well the history of West, the history of revolutions, how many challenges they face, but at the end, people who determine and insist on their freedom and justice, they win the battle.

If we didn’t witness it now, today, the second generation will witness it. If you didn’t wake up today, the second generation will wake up. So, again, I’m so optimistic also because now, with all this hatred, with all the brutal, with all this racism, there’s people around the world saying no. Here the people in the United States that’s saying no every day, every day, every month; the demonstrations that is happening now against the bad decisions, against weapons, against—against Muslims ban, against—that make me really optimistic, because I’m counting on the people. Those people will not accept all this injustice to continue.

Yes, I am still optimistic because I know the future. But the current—I am so sad, I am so angry with the current situation, because I know that we—I mean, we could—we were just few steps to achieving what we dream for, what we sacrifice for. And there is no need for all this blood and there is no need for all this chaos. There is no need for all these terrorists. Again, the terrorism is the result of the tyranny. Dictatorship and dictatorism and terrorism are two faces of one coin. Both of them feed each other. Both of them support each other and protect each other.

So I know that with all these terrorists that attacking us before attacking the West, that they are the result of the dictator. So the solution is fighting the dictator in Yemen, in Syria, in everywhere. I’m—I really believe on the future. And again, again, believe me, the third, inshallah, meeting I will be here and you will congratulating me on our new country, our new state, democrat Yemen, strong Yemen, free Yemen. I promise you, either me or my daughter—(laughter)—inshallah, maybe.

VOGELSTEIN: I hope you will all be back for that.

We’re going to come over here, please.

Q: Hi, thanks.

First, thank you so much. I do hope that the next time we have you here, it is welcoming you as the head of state or prime minister.

Just one question and one quick comment. So on the question—another reason for hope potentially, and I’m curious for your thoughts, is the recent appointment of a new, more dynamic U.N. peace envoy, Martin Griffiths, who’s been in country and in the region. I didn’t know if you had thoughts on both how his initial—he hasn’t done a public briefing yet—that’ll happen next week—but if you had thoughts on how his initial approach to the conflict might be more successful than his predecessor’s or what advice you would give or how you would think he ought to—he ought to be setting up a process of peace talks.

And then just one quick comment, which is thanks again to you and to Rachel. I think so much of the Yemen debate, as it happens in the U.S., we see ourselves listening to other Americans talking about Yemen. And there are very few opportunities for us to actually hear from those in the know who are Yemeni. So thank you for coming.

KARMAN: Mr. Martin, he’s just in his first, you know, work with Yemen. I hope that he can—he can really create the sustainable peace in Yemen; and, again, sustainable peace, not temporary peace, not fake peace—sustainable peace. And if he really—I advise him, if he really want to create peace in Yemen, he should and you should help him on returning President Hadi to Yemen. That is a very important key for sustaining.

You should help Yemeni people to free their political decision. Our political decision is kidnapped. So nothing will happen with that. So he should return. And he should also—you should also tell Saudi and Emirates to stop supporting militia. So how can he make—how can he make peace with Houthi as a militia while there is another militias there, and they create militias?

Now they want to create another militia in Taiz. They create militia in Adan, they create militia in Hadhramaut, they create militia in Shabwah, and all of them against the legitimacy and all of them against the tasks. And this is very important point; I will say it. And please write it if you don’t mind. It’s very important, anyway, that they should focus on the tasks of the transitional period, the tasks.

So what is the transitional period? What should it lead—we have—(speaks in Arabic)—the national dialogue outcomes. We have constitution. We have a vision for federal country. So any solution should lead to implement these tasks, any solution. If they give another tasks, that means everything will collapse, will continue on collapsing. So the legitimacy should return. The militia should be—(speaks in Arabic).

MR.     : Dissolved.

KARMAN: Dissolved—should be dissolved. And the tasks should be implemented, either with the President Hadi or with another authority that will—maybe Yemeni will agreed on. But the most important thing is tasks, is Yemen as a federal country, is the—putting the constitution and going to the election. Any other fragile solution, maybe it will be succeed on working truce. But in the future, it will wage worst war. This is my advice.

And let me say something on this regard. It’s very important also to Mr. Martin and to all those who carry about the Yemen, they have to listen to the vision of peaceful-revolution people, to those people who are inside Yemen, the peaceful—the youths who made this great revolution, who entered to the transitional period with a successful way, not just the parties, not just the people that they fight each other.

They should go and ask about those people who led about the peaceful revolution and ask their vision. Why he visit Ahmed Ali? Or—who are the—they are from the past. So he should—he or anyone, they should go to Turkey. There is a huge number of peaceful revolutionary people in Turkey. There is a huge number in Egypt. There is in Yemen. They should go and—no, they exclude the youth, the revolutionary—the peaceful revolutionary youth. And they’re just listening to the criminals or to the parties that they are involved on all this chaos.

VOGELSTEIN: We’re closing towards the end of our time, and I see a few more. So why don’t we take just a few final questions here, and we’ll come over here, and then there.

Q: Tawakkol, is there a Yemeni leader who’s like Lincoln? We had a civil war here. It was bloody. I mean, I look at Yemen, it’s so divided, it’s so fragmented. But there’s bound to be a Yemeni national leader who can appeal to the various groups to achieve what you are calling for.

VOGELSTEIN: We’re going to come collect a few and then please respond. Over here.

Q: Thank you for the events, Tawakkol and the Council.

My question is coming from legal background; that’s occupation as a legal term. I mean, is it—how is it reached, the elements of consider what’s Saudi Arabia and Emirates as an occupier, though the most, I mean, important parties working with them? So who’s going to challenge if that concerns occupation? Who’s going to, on the ground in Yemen, challenge that if the major parties working with them? Thank you.

KARMAN: We should consider them as occupation, because they should pay the costs of occupation in Yemen.

VOGELSTEIN: We have one last question and then your response. Please.

Q: Hello. Yes. My name is James Samimi Farr. I’m with the Bahais of the United States.

And one uncertainty concerning Yemen is what sort of solid state will emerge once the humanitarian crisis has come to a close and how the trauma of the crisis will shape that state. And for us as Bahais, as members of the Bahai community, one of our questions is religious freedom. On January 2nd, a member of our community, Hamed bin Haydara, in Yemen was sentenced to death by the Houthi authorities. And, of course, we’re very concerned and alarmed by this and, you know, along with a lot of other persecution against minorities within the country.

And we’re curious what steps will need to be taken for Yemen to emerge from this crisis with religious freedom and other freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, to be incorporated in its state structure.

VOGELSTEIN: Your final thoughts.

KARMAN: OK. Is there a leader? There is a leader, oh, there is. The leader was and still the dream of people and their goals, and now their draft of constitution. There is no Abraham Lincoln. There is no like that as a person. But there is a people that lives under peaceful revolution.

And unfortunately, when—OK. If you were—now, again, let’s make the leader is the tasks and the draft of constitution. You should—because many people can gather after—behind that if the referendum happened. That is a very important one—thing.

There is—maybe if we make our group, our movement, the third option, maybe we will create this leader that you are asking about. We are doing all our effort to make that happen, and we are making a very big improvement in this field. But again, that is something in parallel with the effort of the international community on supporting Yemeni people to go to making—to put the constitution in the referendum.

About the occupation, I am really—I don’t—I couldn’t—(speaks in Arabic).

MR.     : Describe.

KARMAN: I couldn’t describe what is happening in Yemen, especially in the 80 percent, something other than occupation. There is no—because what can you say about a country that deny your presidential return and occupied islands and port and airport, et cetera, and they create militias and they create prisons, prisons in Yemen; torture your people. They took your oil and exported. They—they prevent you from giving the salary to the people. Now they make—Saudi and Emirates make their war and their legitimacy. So they use the legitimacy to cover their crime.

They need the legitimacy, because they don’t want to describe as an occupation forces, because if they are an occupation forces, they have a lot of responsibility for Yemeni people. They don’t want. And believe me, they will continue their destroying Yemen. And they said we are under the legitimacy. We supported the legitimacy, because now they take all their benefits under the name of legitimacy. No, they are not under the legitimacy. Totally they are not under the legitimacy.

They should—they should pay the cost as an occupation country, and Yemeni people will fire them—fire—will fire them, will let them go, all of them. Yemen will remain. So if they continue their rule like this, Yemeni people will be really against them. Even now, people who believe that they are helping the legitimacy, in the future, very near future, they will know—they will discover the reality. And that is what is happening now. Go to Aden. Go to the south and ask about Emirates and Saudi. Ask about them before two years and ask about them this year. And why we say that’s an occupation, and also in the future also, we will ask them. We will follow—(speaks in Arabic)—

MR.     : Compensation.

KARMAN: Compensation for our people, for Yemeni people. They destroy everything. They destroy everything. And they said we are helping you. No, they don’t help us. We are about the freedom of speech and the religious freedom. Look, the peaceful revolution was the solution for Yemeni people. The outcomes of the peaceful revolution was the solution for Yemeni people and was the solution for all that—the thing that you asked about—freedom of expression, religion right, women’s right, kids’ right, the right of education—et cetera, et cetera. If you read the draft of constitution, you will see how this constitution guaranteed the freedom of expression, guaranteed even the—(speaks in Arabic).

MR.     : Freedom of belief.

KARMAN: Freedom of belief. And this price was something you can’t discuss before the revolution. So with the draft of constitution, all the right, all the dream, all the thing that we sacrifice for and struggle for, put it in the constitution. There is some shortages because of the consensus. There is—but I am, as a human-rights activist doesn’t, you know, agree. But it’s still—very few things I accept. So what the solution with that. If we go and make the referendum for constitution, all this right will be guaranteed as a constitutional right—not as a gift, as a constitutional right. People will defend on this right in the future.

VOGELSTEIN: Well, it is clear that much work lies ahead. But there’s no doubt that our conversation today and hearing from you has enlightened all of us. Tawakkol, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for being here.

Please join me in a round of applause. (Applause.)

KARMAN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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