It was a decision that shocked many, even the recipient himself. Just nine months into his term as president of the United States, and still struggling with two protracted wars, the US president, Barack Obama, was named the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Mr Obama, speaking to reporters on the lawn outside the White House, said he was "most surprised and deeply humbled", by the award, which the Norwegian committee said he had won for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples".
As humble as ever, the country's first African-American president, said he did not believe he deserved such a prestigious prize but that he would see it as a "call to action" for the globe to confront common challenges of the 21st century. "The challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation," Mr Obama said, calling for all countries to take steps to eliminate nuclear weapons, address climate change and find peace in the Middle East.
Thorbjoern Jagland, the chairman of the five-member Nobel committee which chose Mr Obama said they wanted to laud the president for creating "a new climate in international politics". "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."
But while there was much praise for Mr Obama's efforts to bring about a nuclear free world and peace to the Middle East, many in the region said that perhaps the award was given too early, before the young president has scored even one major foreign policy victory. "To be honest, what have we got so far? There are promises, nice language and over-ambitious plans for peace," said Dr Mustafa Alani, the senior adviser and programme director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.
"There is no peace in Afghanistan. Iraq is not stable, Palestine is more complicated than before. There are settlement issues. They are jumping the gun here." Dr Alani said that while Mr Obama had shown sincerity in tackling the issues of the Middle East, he "doubted the outcome because there is nothing encouraging for me to see of Obama or his implementation on the ground". "From Nixon to this day, every American president has promised to solve the Palestinian problem. So I am not sure what is the uniqueness surrounding him since every [American] president and Arab leader have worked on this. What differentiates him? I don't see it."
Mr Obama, 48, was elected last year on a platform of extracting American forces from Iraq and changing the way the US was perceived abroad after his predecessor, George W Bush. He has sought to improve relations with the Arab world, including a speech in Cairo that was applauded by Muslims around the world earlier this year. He has extended the hand of diplomacy to Iran and promoted a cut in atomic weapons held by Russia and the US. He has banned torture and other extreme interrogation techniques for terrorists. But he also promised to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but this is likely to miss the January 2010 deadline.
Mohammed Zeidan, the director of the Arab Human Rights Association, a Palestinian advocacy group based in Nazareth, Israel, said he too was baffled by the decision. "What has Obama done to deserve this? So far it is only words about peace, but in practice what has he done for human rights, to end wars or to improve American foreign policy? Even with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have heard a lot of talk about change but I see no substantial new direction."
The former American president, Jimmy Carter, who won the peace prize in 2002, however, applauded the decision saying it was a "bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment". Uri Avnery, the founder of Israel's Gush Shalom peace movement and winner of the 2001 Right Livelihood Award, often called the "alternative Nobel Peace Prize", said he thought Mr Obama's win was deserved.
But, he cautioned: "The important question is does he have the determination to impose his will on the parties in the Middle East, especially Israel? It is disappointing that in practice he gave in to Benjamin Netanyahu on the settlement freeze, but we are hopeful that was tactical retreat. "There is no question of his sincere and serious efforts to try to resolve the conflict. "Some people might think it a little early, and that he still has to prove his resolution to act. But the Nobel Committee has done this before and used the prize as a way to push recipients to realise their intentions for peace. Certainly, it should help him in his endeavours and give him greater courage to act."
Although the Norwegian committee received more than 200 nominations for 2009, there was never any clear favourite. Top contenders for the US$1.4 million (Dh5.1m) prize include Piedad Cordoba, a Colombian peace broker; Sima Samar, an Afghan rights activist; Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai; the French-Colombian activist and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt; Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the Jordanian interfaith dialogue advocate. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was also nominated.
The closing deadline for the nominations was February 1, less than two weeks after Mr Obama took office. Mr Obama, who said he will donate the $1.4 million award to charity, is the third sitting US president to have won the prize, following Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Mr Carter won in 2002 and the former vice president Al Gore received the prize in 2007 for his work towards promoting climate change.
email@example.com Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Cook contributed to this report from Jerusalem.