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H. E. Tawakkol Karman, the 33-year-old journalist and activist who galvanized Yemeni support for the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, and became the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Prize, will be the featured speaker in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on June 7th. The talk will be cosponsored by Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL) and Institute of Politics (IOP), and will begin at 6:00 pm. The event will also be webstreamed live on the IOP Forum website.
Cofounder of the human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains, an advocate for freedom of the press, and a senior member of the opposition political party Al-Islah, Karman organized weekly protests in support of broad reforms in Yemen beginning in May of 2007. After the overthrow of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 touched off the Arab Spring, Karman stepped up her criticisms of Yemen’s dictatorial and corrupt government. She called for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and was arrested and detained twice within a two-month period. She also chastised the United States and Saudi Arabia for their initial support of the Saleh regime, and spoke out against the Gulf Cooperation Council’s proposal to give Saleh immunity from prosecution should he resign.
In early October 2011, Karman was named a corecipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with two women from Liberia: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (who received a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School in 1971) and her compatriot Leymah Gbowee. Karman became the first Yemeni and the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date. On October 21st, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution condemning the Saleh government; a week later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement in support of a democratic transition in Yemen. On November 23rd, Saleh agreed to transfer his powers to Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi.
At the June 7 event in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Iris Bohnet, academic dean and professor of public policy at the Kennedy School, will deliver welcoming remarks. Karman will be introduced by Nicholas Burns, professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics at HKS and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The following day, Karman will participate in a research conference hosted by CPL entitled “Culture, Identity, and Change in the Middle East: Insights for Conflict and Negotiation.”