Sakharov award goes to Arab Spring activists | World | Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 14.12.2011

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Sakharov award goes to Arab Spring activists

Europe is honoring the people whose struggles sparked the Arab Spring revolution. Five of them received this year's prestigious Sakharov Award. It's awarded annually by the European Parliament.

Poster showing Mohamed Bouazizi the vegetable vendor triggered the Arab revolution

A poster of Mohamed Bouazizi

The European Parliament was unanimous in its decision. Five people who played a key role in the revolutions witnessed in the Arab world are being honored for propagating freedom of expression. The award comes along with 50,000 euros ($65,000). Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, said the prize showed the admiration for those who had brought change to Europe's neighborhood.

Tunisian trigger

The revolution had its beginnings in Tunisia. In December 2010, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable trader, was physically abused by police who had raided his stand and taken away his goods. He doused himself in petrol, went in front of the city hall and set himself on fire screaming, "enough of this poverty, enough of this joblessness!" Two weeks later he succumbed to his injuries. His act of self-immolation drove hundreds of thousands of Tunisians to the streets in protest. From there the whole Arab world faced an unprecedented wave of protests. The European Parliament awarded Bouazizi this year's Sakharov prize posthumously.

An Egyptian riot police officer, center, throws a stone towards protestors near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt

Protests in Cairo's Tahrir square

Cairo was next: On Jan.18, 2011 a young lady used a webcam to voice her displeasure with Egypt's ruling elite. She told her viewers, "I say no to corruption, I say no to this regime." Asmaa Mahfouz was only 26-years old when she uploaded the video to her Facebook account, urging people to come to Tahrir square to demand their rights. Thousands and thousands heeded her call to ask for freedom. Their grievances: social justice, basic liberties, democratic reforms. Today, Mahfouz has 14,000 friends on Facebook.

The EU Parliament is also honoring Libyan dissident Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi. The 77-year old was Libya's most senior political prisoner, spending 31 years in prison under the Gadhafi regime. Much of his term was spent in solitary confinement. After 42 years of dictatorship, al-Sanusi is back again in Libya's politics courtesy of the governing rebels who ousted the government.

Pencil protests

In Syria, things have been different for the two activists named the other winners of this year's prize. Lawyer Razan Zaitouneh has been living in hiding for months. Her blog "Syrian Human Rights Information Link," has been reporting about the systematic abuse of human rights by the Syrian authorities. She has called for the transfer of President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court.

The Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat is in a similar position. As the protests gained momentum, his drawings became more direct. Even al-Assad himself was not spared by the artist's pencil. But that would be thoroughly punished. Foreign media showed pictures of a heavily battered and badly injured Farzat in hospital. The reason: a cartoon impression of President al-Assad as a hitchhiker, standing by the roadside with a bag in his hand and signalling with his thumb to Moammar Gadhafi to take him along. Just like Ali Farzat, other Arab Spring activists have had to sacrifice a great deal.

Asmaa Mahfouz lost a friend during the protests. "I am not the only one who has earned this award," she told Deutsche Welle. The prize honors her as a brave woman. "But there other Egyptians more courageous than me," she added. "They too deserve to be commemorated, I am proud to be one of them and to live in this country."

Author: Stefanie Duckstein / cm
Editor: Daniel Pelz

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