PRIO Director's Nobel Peace Prize Speculations 2011

With a new year comes a new round of Nobel prizes, and PRIO Director Kristian Berg Harpviken continues the tradition of speculating over who will win the peace prize this year. Of course, we will also keep track of potential and confirmed nominations.

While the PRIO director may be well placed to speculate on this topic, his speculations do not confirm nor endorse any candidate. Given his speculation, he has chosen not to nominate anyone himself. PRIO does not have any formal links to the Nobel Institute and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo; consequently, the speculation does not reflect their opinion.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee bases its assessment on valid nominations that they receive by 1 February each year. A number of people around the world, including all members of parliaments, have the right to nominate. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee can also nominate candidates before their first meeting following the deadline.

On 1 March, the Nobel Institute announced that 241 candidates have been nominated for the peace prize for 2011, of which 53 are organizations. The winner will be announced on Friday 7 October this year.

PRIO Director Kristian Berg Harpviken presented his speculations for who might win the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize at the Nobel Peace Center on Sunday 2 October, and a video of the lecture is available here.

Kristian Berg Harpviken's shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize 2011

  • Israa Abdel Fattah and the April 6th Youth Movement
  • Wael Ghonim
  • Lina Ben Mhenni
  • Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina
  • Ghazi bin Mohammad

Kristian Berg Harpviken thinks that two basic issues will be central to the committee in its deliberations for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. The wave of uprisings — in several cases followed by regime change — that has swept across North Africa and the Middle East, is the most significant political development of the year. The current committee has emphasized its wish to be relevant, to speak to dominant themes of the present, and to see the prize giving leverage in unfolding processes. Secondly, Harpviken believes that the prize is likely to be awarded to a female leader or activist who has been an innovator of new tools for bringing about peace. With only two out of the ten last prizes going to women (and only ten prizes in history), it may be seen as important to set a new trend for the second decade of this millennium. A prize to somebody who has made a significant contribution to the prevention, amelioration or resolution of armed conflict would be firmly in line with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will. Like last year, when the prize went to Xiabao, the committee may want to award the initiative of people who do not hold positions of power but who nonetheless find ways of affecting history in definitive ways. Innovation — be that in use of technology, types of public action, or application of existing laws and institutions — inspires others by demonstrating the possibilities for change.

Harpviken’s favourite for 2011 is Israa Abdel Fattah and the April 6th Youth Movement. The movement is a coalition of various political groups, and has had a key role in maintaining the direction and non-violent character of the uprisings in Egypt. Fattah is one of its founders, an influential voice in social media; an inspiration behind the protests.

His second suggestion for 2011 is Wael Ghonim, also a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir square. A principled non-violence activist and an innovator in the use of social media, he played a key role in re-energizing the protests in July 2011.

Third on Harpviken’s list is Lina Ben Mhenni, a blogger whose criticism of the Tunisian regime goes much further back than the start of the uprisings in December 2010. A prize to Mhinni would be a prize to independent reporting, in the form of social media, as well as recognition of the peaceful protests of the Tunisian people at large.

The fourth suggestion is Memorial, the Russian organization focusing on reconciliation through historical documentation, alongside founding member Svetlana Gannushkina. Memorial’s focus on coming to terms with history as a key to present day rights, democracy and reconciliation is an innovative and important complement to conventional legal processes.

The first four favorites for 2011 are all people who have, through creativity and courage expanded the global repertoire for how civil society can foster peace through non-violent means. The fifth and final suggestion for the 2011 Peace Prize is Ghazi bin Muhammad, for his longstanding advocacy of mutual understanding between religious faith traditions, and who spearheaded the broad inter-religious initiative called a ‘Common Word’.

About the Favorites

Israa Abdel Fattah is one of the founders of the April 6th Youth Movement. Fattah is a woman who has become a central representative of the movement for a peaceful transition in Egypt, a staunch critique of the previous regime, a principled democrat, a proponent of non-violent means, and a local pioneer in the use of social media. The arrest of Isra Abdel Fattah in 2008 stirred strong reactions in Egypt; she was released after two weeks and reappeared as a leading oppositional voice in January 2011. The movement was established, first as a group on Facebook, in the spring of 2008, with Ms Fattah teaming up with Ahmed Maher (a possible co-recipient of the prize). Since then, the April 6th Youth Movement has developed into a coalition that spans a broad spectrum of coalition groups, including also individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The April 6th Youth Movement played an important role in the 2011 uprisings that led to regime change in Egypt.

Second on Harpviken's list is another leading figure from the uprisings in Egypt: Wael Ghonim, a computer engineer and Google executive, who was a key leader in the peaceful protests on Tahrir square, and credited with re-energizing the protests in July 2011. Keeping the focus on key Nobel themes — democracy, human rights and peace — we may also look to Tunisia, where there are few clear leaders (though ‘The Tunisian People’ have reputedly been nominated), but one possible candidate is Radhia Nasraoui, a human rights lawyer with a longstanding engagement as a critique of the country’s governments. Another direction, emphasizing the non-violent character of several of the Arab Spring protests, is Gene Sharp (also discussed below), whose life-long work on the principles and practices of non-violence has been a major source of inspiration.

The third favourite is Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger and university lecturer who has a record of criticizing her government’s authoritative stance that predates the uprisings of December 2010. Mhenni remains critical of the conventional media’s role, even in the aftermath of the political change in the country, believing little has changed in the daily practice of journalists. She is humble about her own role, and sees the media only as a contributing factor: ‘Had there been only the internet, we would have never reached our goal. There were people who lost their lives, people who were injured. Those were much greater sacrifices than we did as internet activists.’ If the 2011 Peace Prize went to journalism — in this case for the use of new media for political purposes — it would be a new type of recipient, but one that is clearly within the committee’s understanding of peace as promoted by democracy and rights, including freedom of expression. There are a number of relevant candidates related to the Arab Spring including most of those discussed above. If we move outside North Africa and the Middle East, we have Ory Okolloh,a Kenyan activist who has made her mark in using cell phone technology to enable citizen’s monitoring of violence, corruption or availability of medicine, an approach she pioneered during the 2007 election violence in Kenya, when she set up a website which systematically recorded eyewitness accounts of violence from across Kenya, using text messages sent from cell phones, and using Google Maps to identify the precise location. Other possible candidates include the International Crisis Group (ICG), which combines a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) activist agenda with solid case-specific background analysis, aiming to set the agenda and affect policy decisions. The ICG could share the prize with Louise Arbour, its new CEO, who also has a background as a UN Commissioner for Human Rights and as a prosecutor in the transitional courts of both Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

Memorial is a Russian organization which focuses on the documentation of historical injustice and violence, with the aim of promoting reconciliation, democracy and human rights. A Nobel peace prize to Memorial is likely to be shared with one or several of its most profiled activists, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, who is a founding member of the organization and now a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights. The activities of Memorial include historical documentation, human rights advocacy and monitoring, and legal assistance. The organization's approach to historical documentation as a way of overcoming a conflictual past is particularly interesting, and represents a softer alternative to the legal approach pursued through a variety of transitional courts set up over the past two decades. The organization is also active in Chechnya, where conflict is still raging. Memorial has pursued its mission sometimes at great cost. Its archives have been searched and partially confiscated by the authorities. The Head of its Chechnya office, Natalia Estemirova, was abducted and later found killed in 2009, and its current leader, Oleg Orlov, faces legal charges for his statements regarding Ms Estemirova’s death. A prize to Memorial would also be a response to criticism leveled against the Nobel committee’s chair, Torbjørn Jagland, that his post as secretary-general at the Council of Europe effectively rules-out a prize to Russian civil society activists. Another possible candidate in the same category is Sima Simar, a former Harpviken favorite, whose work at the helm of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is becoming only more critical as the international withdrawal from Afghanistan is getting closer. In the same category is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and a member of the South African Truth Commission who has launched the term ‘empathic repair’. Other candidates include Richard Goldstone, leader of the UNHRC investigation of human rights and humanitarian law violations in the 2008-09 Gaza war; and, within the strongly related area of transitional courts, the Special Tribunal for Cambodia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

A topic of considerable current relevance is interfaith understanding and dialogue. The renewed attention to civilizational conflict, the challenges to multiculturalism, and the rise of right wing-extremism in much of the West could serve as a rationale to look in this direction. These are topics that are high on the Norwegian agenda in the aftermath of the 22 July terror attacks in Oslo and Utøya, and a prize to a non-Norwegian champion of multiculturalism could be tempting this year. A promising candidate in this category is Ghazi bin Muhammad, a professor in the Philosophy of Islamic Faith at Jordan University, as well as a member of the Jordanian Royal family. Ghazi bin Muhammad plays a central role as an advocate of interfaith dialogue; he was the initiator of the 2005 Amman Message, as well as the 2007 initiative known as ‘A Common Word’. A prize to Prince Ghazi would be an important recognition of his efforts to engage Islamic theology, institutions and leaders in a debate on the relationship between Islam and other faiths, thereby contributing to a wider platform for interreligious dialogue for Muslims in general. There are a number of other candidates in the same area, including St. Egidio, a Catholic order which combines humanitarian work and peace mediation.

Alternative Directions

Free media is widely seen to positively contribute to peace, holding governments and others accoutable. Despite of this, no peace prize has been awarded to the media. A timely media candidate would be Al Jazeera, perhaps shared with Wadah Khanfar, who just stepped down as the channel's director-general). Its unique role in reporting from the front lines of the Arab Spring made it a channel of first choice around the world. Al Jazeera has always been controversial, but its unique qualities - local knowledge, street presence, political courage - have been more visible than ever in the context of the Arab Spring. Another option is one of Harpviken’s favorites from last year, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency with a proven ability to conduct reporting under tight state controls. Another possible candidate within the category of independent reporting is Malahat Nasibova, a journalist and human rights activist operating in the Nakchivan enclave of Azerbaijan, and recipient of the 2009 Rafto Prize. A frequently mentioned candidate is Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, who Harpviken always found unlikely, but who now seems to have been entirely disqualified by the recent posting on the whole set of US diplomatic cables with sensitive information on numerous individuals.

A prize could also be given to a candidate that represents the role of women in peace processes, or the heavy toll of war on women. One strong candidate here would be Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian social worker and peace activist, who is best known for her mobilization of women to put pressure on Liberia’s contending leaders from 2002, culminating in the 2003 peace treaty. Later, Gbowee established the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN), which she still leads, and a Peace Prize could possibly be shared between her and the network. Another possible candidate in this category is Denis Mukwege, the doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo who works with victims of sexualised violence.

There are also strong arguments for a prize to peace research. A strong name is Gene Sharp (mentioned above), known for his scholarly writings on and advocacy of non-violence. Sharp set up the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) in 1983 as a platform for his engagement to both theorize and teach non-violence. A Nobel Peace Prize to Gene Sharp would not only be recognition of the role of peace research and the importance of knowledge for policy innovation, but also serve as a strong handshake to scholars and advocates of non-violence. Sharp's writings have inspired the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Other potential candidates within peace research are Paul Collier, Oxford University Professor of Economics and one of the world’s most influential analysts of the causes and consequences of war; Michael Doyle and Bruce Russett, proponents of the Democratic Peace theory; and the Human Security Report Project (RSRP) and its founder, Andy Mack, who have persistently been arguing and documenting the post-1995 decline of wars, battle-deaths and genocides.

Debate on the committee's composition

In an op-ed in one of Norway’s main daily newspapers, Aftenposten [translation here], Kristian Berg Harpviken called for a change in the way the Nobel committee is appointed. Nobel’s will gives the Norwegian parliament — the Storting — a mandate to appoint a five member committee, but does not give any further instructions as to how the selection should be done. Current practice is that the presidium of the parliament distributes seats to the political parties on the basis of their relative strength in parliament. The ensuing risks have to do both with independence, competence and composition. It weakens the insistence that the committee be independent if members tend to be outgoing politicians who have played central roles in their parties (the committee seat potentially serving as a reward for long and faithful services). Further, the challenging task of awarding the Nobel peace prize requires special experience and competence with international affairs generally, and peace promotion specifically, which may be held not only by (some) politicians, but also by scholars, commentators and civil society activists. Finally, the overall composition of the committee is accidental, as the presidium leaves it to individual parties to fill their allotted seat. In 2011, the parliament will replace two of the committee’s five members (with effects from 2012), which is why this is the time to debate the issue.

The call for change has received considerable support. The foreign spokesperson of the Labor Party, Svein Roald Hansen, has supported the call, and pointed out that historically many of the committee’s key members have not been central politicians. He also finds it worthwhile to discuss whether non-Norwegians should be appointed. Also Øyvind Korsberg from the Progress Party sees the need for reform; so does Akhtar Chaudhry, one of the five Vice-Presidents of the Storting and a member of the Socialist Left Party. Chaudhry calls not only for a new composition, including international members in the committee, but goes further to suggest that nominations should be accepted from anybody (as opposed to today’s arrangement, where only certain categories of people have the right to nominate), and that there is openness about nominations, evaluation criteria and reviews (as opposed to the current 50 year clause on deliberations). The committee chair, Jagland, is on record as saying that the criticism of current practice is surreal, a strong reaction, which came in response to the secretary general of his own party, Raymond Johansen, who aslo called upon the parliament to review its current practice in order to remove any doubts about the prize's independence. There have been no changes in the practice for committee appointments since 1978, when an informal rule against being a parliamentarian and a committee member was put in place (a practice that was violated with the last appointments of Jagland and Valle, who only stepped down from parliament on the day of the 2009 announcement). The recent calls for change bear promise of an exciting debate in 2011, and possible changes as of 2012.


Below is a list of names that are potential nominees for the peace prize this year, ranging from more or less confirmed to speculations and pure campaigning. The nominations list from the Nobel Institute is kept secret for 50 years, so confirmations are based on nominators making their choice public. Note that, according to Wikipedia, nominations over the years include names with which the values of the peace prize arguably conflict; nomination is in itself no objective token of being worthy of the prize.

Possible and Confirmed Nominations

  • Wikileaks and Julian Assange (confirmed nomination by Norwegian MP Snorre Valen. Source)
  • Bradley Manning, US Army Intelligence Analyst who leaked to Wikileaks
  • Military Religious Freedom Foundation, US civil rights organization (Source)
  • Francois Houtart, Belgian sociologist of religion and Catholic priest (Source. But see also this)
  • Sima Samar, Afghan human rights advocate
  • Maohmed Sadiq Kaboudvand, founder of Kurdistan Human Rights organization (Source)
  • Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgysz president (Source)
  • Sir Nicholas Winston, who saved hundreds of Czechoslovak Jewish children before WW2 (confirmed nomination by Czech Senate deputy chair Premysl Sobotka. Source)
  • Irom Sharmila, Indian civil rights activist
  • Dalia Steiner, co-founder of Women's International Coalition (campaign on facebook)
  • Giulio Andreotti and Emilio Colombo, former Italian prime ministers (confirmed nomination by US Professor William Parent, Santa Clara University)
  • Wings of Hope, US humanitarian organization (Source)
  • Sheikh-ul-Islam Haji Allahshukur Pashazade, Chairman of Caucasus Muslims Office (Source)
  • George Ryan, retired Illinois governor (confirmed nomination by US professor Francis a. Boyle. Source)
  • Damas de Blanco [Ladies in White], Cuban opposition movement
  • Denis Mukwege, DRC doctor
  • Roj TV, Kurdish TV channel based in Denmark (Source)
  • Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Cuban dissident (Confirmed nomination by group of Norwegian MPs. Source)
  • Mustafa Jemilev, leader of the Majlis of the Crimean Tartar People (Source)
  • Douglas Roche, Canadian long-time disarmament campaigner and former MP (Source)
  • Leymah Gbowee, Liberian social worker and activist
  • Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzales, Cuban political prisoner (Nominated by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán and others. Source)
  • The World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media [WAALM] (Source)
  • Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop of Guwahati, India (Source)
  • Nihon Hidankyo and Mayors for Peace, Japan (Nominated by Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire. Source)
  • Miodrag Lovrić (Serbia), Jasmin Komić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Ksenija Dumičić (Croatia), statisticians who initiated the International Encyclopedia of Statistical Sciences (Source)
  • Stanislau Shushkevich, Belarusian politican (former president) and scientist
  • Daniel Barenboim, Israeli musician and conductor (Source)
  • Henri Konan Bedie, fmr. President, Cote de Ivoire (Source)
  • Helmut Kohl, fmr. Chancellor of Germany
  • Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso (Source)
  • Stephanie Hope Smith, neutral mediator related to American Indian sacred sites in US and Canada (Source)
  • Douglas Roche, former Canadian Senator and Ambassador for Disarmament (Source)
  • International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (nominations by board members of the International Peace Bureau, confimed by its Secretary-General Colin Archer)
  • Betty Reardon, peace educator (nominations by board members of the International Peace Bureau, confimed by its Secretary-General Colin Archer)
  • Evo Morales Ayma, Bolivian President (nominations by board members of the International Peace Bureau, confimed by its Secretary-General Colin Archer)
  • Canon Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad' (nominations by board members of the International Peace Bureau, confimed by its Secretary-General Colin Archer)
  • Steinar Bryn and the Nansen Dialogue Network (Source)

Contact details:

Kristian Berg Harpviken, PRIO Director. Contact.
Agnete Schjønsby, Information Director. Contact.
Halvor Berggrav, Adviser to the Director. Contact.