x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Nobel victory

The Arab woman named to share the Nobel Peace Prize deserves the recognition, for herself and on behalf of the many female activists of the Arab Spring.

Over the past few decades, the loudest female voices from the Middle East were predominantly negative. Wafa Sultan, a Syria-born psychologist, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from Somalia, have been outspoken critics of Arab societies as "inherently backward" ones.

But now this is changing. On Friday, the Yemeni rights activist Tawwakol Karman became the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her "non-violent struggle for the safety of women". Two women from Liberia were also named, for their own work towards the same goal.

Mrs Karman is exemplary by any standard. A mother of three, she has defied threats of death and prison from the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh while she led non-violent, pro-democracy rallies in the capital Sanaa. She has been an outspoken critic of injustices in her society - including child marriage - since 2007.

This award should serve to honour all Arab women who have worked for healthy change, such as the cyber-activist Esraa Abdul Fattah who helped plant the seeds for Egypt's revolution, and Tunisian rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni. They and others have been in the front line, surprising many with their courage. It remains to be seen whether we will soon see the first Arab female president.