Shirin Ebadi, the most prominent Iranian human-rights activist in the world, offered a cautionary note about progress in the Muslim World over the weekend at the inaugural World Peace Conference in Berlin, the culmination of a weeklong World Peace Festival.
"I think it is too early to use this term 'Arab Spring,' because I don't think it's enough to topple a dictator," Ebadi said over the weekend. "What we need after toppling a dictator is democracy and we can only have democracy when all of the people have equal rights and they have a say in their destiny."
Ebadi, a former judge who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, discussed how Iran overthrew the Shah only to replace him with "another dictator," the Ayatollah Khomeini, and that this "new dictator wrote into law that the life of a woman is worth half that of a man. ... A political dictator was ousted and replaced by a religious dictator."
Ebadi's cautionary note on the cycle of change extended to the events sweeping over Libya and continuing to evolve even over the course of the conference, which will be expanded next year with Deepak Chopra vowing to "spearhead getting 100 million people activated before next conference!" as a number of Tweets put it.
"In Libya we still have to wait and see what happens," Ebadi said.
Taking part in a panel discussion on "Women Peacebuilders Now," she also made the point that in working against the dominance of patriarchal society, she looks to changing attitudes among women, not only men.
"It's not only men who can have this strong culture, women can have it, too."
And she ended with an optimistic note about her native country.
"I'm sure that democracy will be brought to Iran with the powerful hands of women," she said.