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Tawakkul Karman: A Tool for Farcical Democratic Initiatives in the Middle East
By Samra Nasser
Who is Tawakkul Karman and more importantly, how and why has this religiously-dressed Yemeni woman come to be the darling of Western-oriented democracy movements? To understand who is actually reaping the rewards of this activist, we should begin by following the money. Mrs. Karman has a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Sana’a, Yemen called Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC). However, for those of you who may not know, an NGO is not always non-governmental because many NGOs invariably receive all or most of their funding through various departments within the government.
In Mrs. Karman’s case, her WJWC organization asserts it is a non-governmental organization in Yemen that seeks to advocate for rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression with the aim of improving media efficiency and providing skills for journalists, and particularly women and youth. Such work, however, should be considered in the correct context being that its funding sources are through U.S. foreign policy organizations. The organization has been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) since 2008.
NED is a quasi-governmental foundation created by the Reagan Administration in 1983 to channel millions of Federal dollars into anti-Communist ‘private diplomacy.’ It is funded primarily through an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress within the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a subsidiary of the U.S. State Department.
NED has a vast influence over U.S. foreign policy initiatives, by way of its Board of Directors who simultaneously represent numerous powerful multinational corporations (MNCs) ranging from AT&T to Boeing to Fannie Mae.
In addition, many of its Board of Directors have been prominent forces behind initiatives for the U.S. to engage in illegal wars such as in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. According to prominent linguist Noam Chomsky, NED’s agendas are an attempt to impose what is called democracy, meaning rule by the rich and the powerful, without interference by the mob but within the framework of formal electoral procedures. The bottom line is the NED was created to conduct operations which in the past, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would have done covertly, except now with the heading of “NGO” and its creation and funding of umbrella organizations, it could conduct its operations without the stigma associated with the CIA.
Another significant source of funding for Mrs. Karman’s work is an NGO known as IREX. IREX describes itself as an international nonprofit organization providing thought leadership and innovative programs to promote positive lasting change globally. Upon receiving her Noble Peace Prize, IREX posted the following passage on their website:
“IREX had the pleasure of partnering with Tawakkul Karman in her work advocating for press freedom. The organization Women Journalists Without Chains, which she leads, received a grant from IREX through the MENA Media Project to produce a short documentary – Suicide in Yemen. Karman also provided invaluable expert input to IREX’s Middle East and North Africa Media Sustainability Index measuring the condition of independent media across the region and was active in IREX’s media law reform efforts in Yemen. IREX offers its sincere thanks to the individuals and organizations that support its work. “
A quick scan through IREX’s donor list highlights a number of interesting results such as: The U.S. Department of State, in addition to several U.S. embassies, Goldman Sachs, the Government of Canada, UNESCO, among many others. One interesting donor to IREX is the Open Society Foundation (OSF), also a prominent donor to the Arab American Institute (AAI) and funder to the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). OSF describes itself as working to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. The founder and chairman of OSF is none other than George Soros, Billionaire Wall Street Financier whose world-wide projects coinciding with U.S. NGOs aim at enforcing globalization and exploitation which enhance the power of the corporate-financier elite. It takes but a swift scan of the internet to see the far-reaching depths of Soros’ funding recipients and the close ties to U.S. foreign policy to understand the patterns. Why Soros is given so much leverage in controlling and influencing foreign policy which trickles down to emitting funds to local Arab and Arab-American NGOs and institutes is a question that should be further addressed in future writings.
Moreover, in mid-April 11- 14, 2010, at a conference in Jakarta, Indonesia known as the World Movement for Democracy, funded by NED, Mrs. Karman attended as the representative for Yemen. Note this occurred the year before the revolution in Yemen. The conference was attended by democracy activists, practitioners, and scholars world-wide to discuss practical solutions to a wide range of challenges to democracy. Many or most of these activists derive from a long history of funding sources based out of NGOs in Washington and London and therefore, represent organizations with similar agendas. Being that the conference occurred less than a year before the spark of the so-called Arab Spring, it should be of little surprise that also in attendance at this conference was Mr. Radwan Ziadeh, a former fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy, just as Mrs. Karman, however he was representing Syria via his Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. Mr. Ziadeh, a Washington-based Syrian opposition activist and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies has been making the rounds at the U.S. State Department and the various DC think-tanks that write and influence U.S. foreign policy for the past year urging the U.S. and NATO to support the Syrian opposition and fully intervene in the country.
Finally, this leads us to our closing point and to summarize why this article was written in the first place. Last month, at the Munich Security Conference 2012, Tawakkul Karman was invited to make a speech. However, the speech she gave was not on Yemen, but on Syria and the apparent atrocities being made by the Assad regime against innocent protestors. Beyond the obvious question on why Mrs. Karman would be boldly discussing a country she does not represent, her blatantly biased and misinformed speech sounded like an article from an Al-Jazeera journalist with zero presentation of the facts currently occurring on the ground in Syria, forced me to take the time to research her background in order to understand her motives as to, no pun intended, bring down her veil.
So who stands to gain from these activist and democracy-funding initiatives? It is essential to know the sources of funding for such people in the spotlight so as to understand they are being used to represent an initiative not in the interests of Arabs and is most certainly, not in the interest of Muslims. It would not be in the interests of Arabs and Muslims because U.S. foreign policy organizations fund the work of these “democracy activists” which work in U.S. foreign policy interests only. History and current events clearly indicate that such interests have worked against the aspirations of the Arab world. The question is not whether or not these activists are working in goodwill for their causes because if Mrs. Karman’s funding is so heavily U.S. government-based, one must question her work, her ethics, her true agenda and keep in mind this knowledge allows for one to fully understand the movements at work behind the scenes as they have a direct effect on the lives of so many people. If one does not have this knowledge, then how can positive changes occur? Educating oneself is key as is being skeptical of movements and forces on the international stage not impacting you and your surroundings in a positive way, despite the noble messages being transmitted.
— The author is a Yemeni American who lives and works in Washington, D.C.