NED 2011 Democracy Award Honors Tunisians and Egyptians Struggling for Democracy
On June 22, the National Endowment for Democracy presented its annual Democracy Award to the people of Tunisia and Egypt in honor of their struggle to establish democracy in their countries. The Award was accepted by Jamel Bettaieb of Tunisia and Zahraa Said of Egypt; U.S. Under Secretary of State William J. Burns and NED President Carl Gershman were on hand for the presentation. Congressmen Greg Meeks (D-NY) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) also made remarks during the ceremony, which was held in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.
Both recipients have very personal connections to the ongoing struggle in the region. Jamel Bettaieb – an activist, teacher, and trade unionist – is from the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, very publically took his own life after being humiliated by the police. Over the next few weeks, Bettaieb participated and witnessed the events that would make history in his country and reverberate around the world.
Zahraa Said is the sister of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian businessman who, after posting a video about police corruption, was dragged out of an internet café by police and beaten to death. His tortured face was featured on the Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Said,” and was a key catalyst in drawing crowds of peaceful protesters into Tahrir Square in Cairo.
In her acceptance speech at the Award ceremony, Said used the Goddess of Democracy – a statue resembling a Chinese Statue of Liberty made famous in Tiananmen Square and now the image of the NED Democracy Award – to draw a powerful connection between struggles for freedom around the world, from Eastern Europe to China to North Africa:
“This Goddess of Democracy was born in Tiananmen Square and now her spirit lives on in Tahrir Square as well…She has become a universal symbol and a legacy for all honorable human beings fighting for their humanity, fighting for their liberty, and fighting for democratic values…for Mohamed Bouazizi, for Khalid Said, and for all Egyptian victims of torture, injustice, and tyranny. Their purified spirits dwell in her. Their eternal memory bestows upon her great universal values of human dignity and freedom everywhere.”
Prior to the ceremony, both Award recipients met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, where he welcomed the emerging voices of civil society and reaffirmed U.S. commitment to support “the universal rights of all the people of the region.”
The ceremony was immediately preceded by a NED-sponsored roundtable on the broader challenges ahead for a democratic future throughout the Middle East. The roundtable was moderated by NED Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Laith Kubba, and featured reports and insights from key activists who are deeply connected to the struggles underway in their home countries of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and Syria. Video of the roundtable and Award presentation are available online.
Days after the award presentation in Washington, NED President Carl Gershman traveled to Tunisia to deliver the NED award in person to the offices of Bettaieb’s trade union, the UGTT, where the statue will reside as an acknowledgement of the important role played by both Sidi Bouzid and the trade union movement in Tunisia’s democratic uprising.
Zahraa Said is the sister of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian businessman who was beaten to death by police because he had video evidence of police corruption. After his murder, a now-famous facebook page was created called, “We Are All Khaled Said,” which was a major catalyst in Egypt’s recent revolution.
Jamel Bettaieb is a Tunisian activist, teacher, and trade unionist from Sidi Bouzid, the hometown of Mohammed Bouazizi, the unemployed fruit vendor who burned himself to death after being humiliated by the police, igniting Tunisa’s revolution.
About the Roundtable Discussion:
Beyond the Arab Spring: The Continuing Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East
Watch video of the Roundtable
In conjunction with the presentation of its 2011 Democracy Award honoring all Tunisians and Egyptians who have struggled and sacrificed in the recent Arab Spring, NED sponsored a broader discussion of the challenges that lie ahead for those seeking a democratic future throughout the Middle East.
Moderated by NED’s Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Laith Kubba, this discussion featured the reports and insights from key activists who are deeply connected to the struggles underway in their home countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and Syria.
Jamel Bettaieb, Tunisian Activist, Teacher, Trade Unionist
Radwan Ziadeh, Syrian Activist & Visitng Scholar, George Washington University
Aly Abuzaakuk, Libyan Human and Political Development Forum
Hussain Abdullah, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Atiaf Al-Wazir, Yemeni Activist & Blogger
Sahar Aziz, Egyptian American Rule of Law Association