x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arab Spring poet and blogger tipped for Nobel Prize nominations

Speculation is rife that a Syrian poet and a Tunisian blogger could take home the prestigious prizes for literature and peace when the 2011 Nobel Prize season opens next week.

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, 27, who chronicled the revolution in her country, has been tipped as a possible winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, 27, who chronicled the revolution in her country, has been tipped as a possible winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

STOCKHOLM // In a year dominated by the Arab Spring, speculation is rife that a Syrian poet and a Tunisian blogger could take home the prestigious prizes for literature and peace when the 2011 Nobel Prize season opens on Monday.

The names of the nominees for the awards are kept secret by the various committees - but each year rumours abound for the accolades handed out in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, economics, literature and peace.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Peace Prize, has confirmed a record 241 nominations for 2011 after honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo last year.

Asle Sveen, a historian specialised in the prize, believes that on October 7 the five committee members could reward activists behind the Arab Spring, which led to the overthrow of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

If that were the case, he predicted it could go to the Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country.

"She's a moderate Muslim, a woman, and the award would be a nod to social media and the Arab Spring," Mr Sveen said. "For me, it's a brilliant idea."

He added that the last time a woman won the prize was in 2004, when it went to the late Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai.

The head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, said his favourite was Israa Abdel Fattah of Egypt and the April 6th Youth Movement. The movement, of which Ms Fattah is one of the founders, "played a key role in maintaining the direction and non-violent character of the uprisings in Egypt", he said.

Also on Mr Harpviken's shortlist was Google executive Wael Ghonim, "a principled non-violence activist", who was a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square, and whom Time magazine has named as one of the 100 most influential people of 2011.

Other names circulating include Sima Samar, the Afghan human rights activist; Memorial, the Russian human rights organisation; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian activist; Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwean prime minister; Helmut Kohl, Germany's former chancellor, and the European Union.

For the Literature Prize, some in Stockholm's literary circles have suggested the situation in the Middle East could play a role in the Swedish Academy's choice, with Syrian poet Adonis a possibility.

"It's time for a poet and the Mideast. So who would be better than Adonis?" asked Nicklas Bjoerkholm, the manager of Hedengren's, one of Stockholm's biggest bookstores.

Adonis, who is based in France and whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said, won the prestigious Goethe Prize in June. The same month, he published an open letter to Bashar Al Assad, the president of Syria, in a Lebanese newspaper urging him to end the bloody repression.

Others say there is no way the Academy will head down that route.

Stephen Farran-Lee, senior editor at Bonniers publishing house, said: "The Academy is very keen to point out that they don't have a political agenda, therefore the chances for an Arab writer are slimmer this year than they've been other years."