x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Five honoured for roles in 'historic changes in Arab world'

The 2011 Sakharvov prize for freedom of thought is shared by two Syrians, an Egyptian, a Libyan and Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian market trader whose dramatic suicide inspired waves of demonstrators in the Arab Spring.

In January people gathered to demonstrate around a portrait of Tunisian protest hero Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid. Five Arab Spring activists, among them Bouazizi, won the Sakharov rights prize, the European Parliament announced Thursday.
In January people gathered to demonstrate around a portrait of Tunisian protest hero Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid. Five Arab Spring activists, among them Bouazizi, won the Sakharov rights prize, the European Parliament announced Thursday.

The European parliament awarded high honours yesterday to five Arabs who were prominent in the drive for change that swept from North Africa to parts of the Middle East this year.

The 2011 Sakharvov prize for freedom of thought is shared by two Syrians, an Egyptian, a Libyan and Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian market trader whose dramatic suicide, setting fire to himself after police seized his wares, inspired waves of demonstrators in the Arab Spring.

The annual award is named after the late Andrei Sakharov, the dissident Soviet physicist and nuclear weapons pioneer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his later commitment to human rights.

The five joint winners, announced at the European parliament's official seat in Strasbourg, were chosen by the conference of president: Jerzy Buzek, president of the parliament, and the leaders of political groups represented there.

Mr Buzek said each of those honoured, who include two women, had "contributed to historic changes in the Arab world and this award reaffirms Parliament's solidarity and firm support for their struggle for freedom, democracy and the end of authoritarian regimes".

Their award represented "a symbol for all those working for dignity, democracy and fundamental rights in the Arab world and beyond".

Bouazizi, 26, set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, his gesture of protest against routine humiliation and persecution at the hands of the Tunisian authorities. He died from his injuries two weeks later and his sacrifice is widely seen as having emboldened Arab Spring demonstrators in Tunisia and beyond.

The other four recipients of the award are the Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz, the Libyan rebel Ahmed Al Zubair Ahmed Al Sanusi and two Syrians, the human-rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and the political cartoonist Ali Farzat.

Ms Mahfouz, 26, was the founder of the April 6 youth movement on Egypt that was responsible for attracting campaigners in their thousands to Cairo's Tahir Square. Their protest, maintained in the face of violent reprisals, eventually brought down the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

The award announcement pays tribute to Ms Mahfouz's response to the "sustained harassment of journalists and activists by the Mubarak regime" which, along with the example of Tunisia, prompted her to organise her own protests. With YouTube videos, and Facebook and Twitter messages, she was credited with inspiring other Egyptians to demand their rights. She was arrested by the Egyptian supreme council of armed forces but released amid public pressure.

The Libyan winner, Mr Al Sanusi, 77, became known as the longest-serving "prisoner of conscience" during his incarceration for opposing the dictatorship of Col Muammar Qaddafi. He spent 31 years in Libyan jails after an attempted coup. He now sits on the National Transitional Council and says he is working to achieve freedom and help a "race to catch up with humanity", establishing democratic values as the state moves forward from the Qaddafi era.

Ms Zaitouneh, 34, the Syrian lawyer honoured, created the Syrian human-rights information link blog Shril (http://www.shril-sy.info/enshril/) to record atrocities allegedly committed as Syrian authorities attempt to suppress the revolt.

The European parliament said: "She publicly revealed murders and human-rights abuses committed by the Syrian army and police. Her [blog] posts have become an important source of information for international media. She is now hiding from the authorities who accuse her of being a foreign agent and have arrested her husband and younger brother."

The fifth prize-winner, Mr Farzat, 49, is a political satirist who is among the best-known critics of the Syrian regime.

"Mr Farzat became more straightforward in his cartoons when the March 2011 uprisings began," said the European parliament. "His caricatures ridiculing Bashar Al Assad's rule helped to inspire revolt in Syria. In August 2011, the Syrian security forces beat him badly, breaking both his hands as 'a warning' and confiscated his drawings."

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's most powerful symbol of resistance to apartheid, and the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan are among past recipients of the Sakharavo prize. The presentation ceremony for the Arab Spring winners, who also share a prize of €50,000. (Dh260,000), will take place at a formal sitting of the European parliament on December 14.

The other shortlisted finalists were the Belarusian civil activist and journalist Dzmitry Bandarenka and the Columbia's San José de Apartadó Peace Community.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae