Tawakul Carmen started the protests in Yemen.
That’s significant because Tawakul Carmen is a woman, and Yemen is a very conservative Muslim society. Women were strongly involved in the protests in Egypt (and were abused for their trouble), but Egypt is a different society than Yemen, more educated, with a bigger middle class, and women were involved in previous protests and the 1919 revolution.
I heard Dexter Filkins interviewed at length on Fresh Air recently. He spent several weeks in Yemen recently, and he has experience in the region, having won literary awards for reporting and an upcoming book on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He was able to talk with Tawakul Carmen, and his story about her was inspiring.
He said that she told him that they would protest for a journalist to be released from prison or for more press freedom and other things over the past few years. He describes meeting her and going to her home and seeing four framed pictures on her mantel: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Hillary Clinton and Martin Luther King. Then he says:
And she said: You know, and then I saw the president of Tunisia fall, and it hit me like a lightning bolt, you know, the whole regime has to go. And so she headed for the square.
And she’s been there ever since. She went to the square to protest with 10 people in mid-January and is still there with a million or more. She’s been arrested and threatened with death. There are very very few women among the protesters there; Filkin says that women are rare even on the streets and Yemen is a country where women are uniformly covered head to toe with the chador and only the eyes are seen. But Carmen jumps up on the stage, in one anecdote he tells, at a protest and starts calling for the regime to fall, and for whatever reason is accepted by the men in the audience.
Tawakul Carmen is a modern day hero.