Mohammed Abou Zaid, File, Associated Press
OSLO, Norway — The Arab Spring is the focus of speculation over this year's Nobel Peace Prize, with an Afghan human rights activist and the European Union as possible outsiders.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee gives no clues ahead of the Oct. 7 announcement, but judging by previous selections, the rebellion sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East would appear to tick all the right boxes.
"It would be consistent with their effort to give attention to high-profile and extremely important, potentially breakthrough developments by movements and by people," said Bates Gill, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The challenge would be to identify a person or group that embodies the non-violent spirit of the revolution, and doesn't turn out to be less deserving of the prestigious $1.5 million award once the final chapters of the still-unfolding Arab Spring have been written.
"It's particularly hard in the context of these protests where there hasn't always been an identifiable leadership," said Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and a prominent voice in the Nobel guessing game.
His top picks are Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and the April 6 Youth Movement, a pro-democracy Facebook group they co-founded in 2008. They "played an instrumental role in the mobilization of protests on both the Internet and on the street," Harpviken said.
His second choice is Wael Ghonim, a marketing executive for Google, for re-energizing the protests on Cairo's Tahrir Square after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Harpviken's third pick is Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni who started criticizing the Tunisian regime before the uprising began in December. She made her name on Facebook as "Tunisian Girl" and, as the country's Arab spring rolled into a fullscale uprising, became a media darling.
The Tunisian man whose self-immolation set off the protests is not a contender because the Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.
One potential obstacle for an Arab Spring award is the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. Harpviken admitted that he wasn't sure whether any of his picks would have been nominated by then. Tunisia's revolt had peaked but the Egyptian protests were just gathering steam, and it was still not clear that the protests would escalate and spread across the region.
However, jurors could add their own suggestions until their first meeting Feb. 28 by which time the uprising had spread to Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and other countries.
The committee can only choose from the valid nominations it had received by that meeting, but is free to consider subsequent events when making their decision.
Geir Lundestad, the non-voting secretary of the committee, noted that's what happened in 1978, when the prize went to Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. They had been nominated for other things, but won the prize for the Camp David peace agreement, which was concluded in September, long after the nomination deadline, with the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
"But Jimmy Carter had not been nominated. So although the committed wanted to include him in the prize, he could not be included because he had not been nominated," Lundestad said.
Carter won the 2002 prize on his own.
The independent, five-member award committee appointed by Norway's Parliament has not shied away from controversy since former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjoern Jagland became chairman two years ago.
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