OSLO, Oct 7 – Speculation reached fever pitch hours ahead of Friday’s announcement of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, with Liberia’s president, cyber activists from the Arab Spring uprising and the European Union among the most widely-tipped winners.,
The Norwegian Nobel Committee that attributes the prize had a record 241 individuals and organisations on its top secret list, with the name of the laureate to be unveiled at the Nobel Institute in Oslo at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).
Prizewatchers have long tipped the prestigious award would go to a cyber activist who helped bring about the Arab Spring uprising, but cryptic comments from the head of the Nobel Committee and a late-night report Thursday by commercial broadcaster TV2 kicked off a new round of furious guessing.
TV2, which correctly predicted the surprise win by Barack Obama in 2009 and last year’s prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, threw a new name into the mix: Africa’s first democratically elected woman government leader, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Avid Nobel watcher Kristian Berg Harpviken, who heads the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) and who had previously said cyber activists of the Arab Spring were the best pick, called Sirleaf a “very interesting tip.”
However, he pointed out that Sirleaf, who will face elections in her bid for a second term on Tuesday, had in the past been involved with one of the groups in Liberia’s civil war and also faced corruption allegations.
“There are other women who are more interesting, also in Liberia, for instance Leymah Gbowee,” a peace activist, he told TV2 Friday morning.
The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, meanwhile would only tell TV2 he believed “this will be a peace prize that many people will appreciate and that will receive wide, international recognition.”
While the 2011 pick “is not without conflict,” he told public broadcaster NRK it would “not create as strong reactions from a single country as it did last year” with the choice of Liu Xiaobo.
He also played down the Arab Spring angle, saying: “There are many other positive developments in the world that we have looked at.”
If an actor in the Arab Spring uprising were nonetheless to be honoured, top picks are thought to be Esraa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher of Egypt, who founded the April 6th Movement that helped organise the protests that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February after 30 years in power.
Google executive Wael Ghonim, also a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square in Cairo, is another observer favourite, as is Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country on the Internet.
Among other names that have been circulating are Sima Samar, an Afghan doctor and women’s rights activist, and Russian activist Svetlana Gannushkina and her human rights group Memorial.
The European Union, currently in full crisis mode, has meanwhile been increasingly mentioned as a possible winner for its role in keeping the peace in most of Europe for more than half a century.
Yet others tipped for the prestigious prize are the Al Jazeera satellite news channel, Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya Sardinas and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The winner or winners of the award will receive their diploma, gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.48 million, 1.08 million euros) at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of prize founder Alfred Nobel.