Arab Spring, Obama, China: Nobel committee chair speaks out

Posted on September 30, 2011


30 September 2011
AFP – The Norwegian Nobel Committee met Friday to pick the 2011 peace prize winner, with the committee chair telling AFP this year’s choice was a relatively easy one, amid speculation Arab Spring actors could win.

“It has not been particularly difficult this year (to decide on a winner),” Thorbjoern Jagland said a day before the committee decided whose name to announce on October 7.

A number of Nobel observers have speculated that this year’s prize will go to representatives of the so-called Arab Spring uprising that has led to the overthrow of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Among the top names are Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country on the Internet, and Google executive Wael Ghonim, who was a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square in Egypt.

Jagland meanwhile flatly refused to say if any of the Arab Spring actors had been in the running for this year’s prize.

While he would not rule out that someone from the uprising could win, he said he personally thought the final outcome of the Arab Spring still remained unclear.

“I think it is really too early to say what will come out of it,” he said.

“One could compare it to what happened in Europe when the Berlin wall and the entire Communist system fell,” he said, but added that there are “several fundamental differences.”

He pointed out that when the communist regimes collapsed, “Western Europe was there, ready to help these countries and support them financially and politically.”

“The other big difference was that these countries had … known democracy and that made it easier to rebuild (democratic structures), but south of the Mediterranean, there is really no democratic memory,” he said.

While Jagland would not say whether any Arab Spring actors had even been discussed as candidates for this year’s prize, he was quick to justify the two previous awards he has presided over.

The former Labour Party prime minister, who became Nobel Committee chair in 2009, has faced criticism at home and abroad for the first pick on his watch of US President Barack Obama, who had only just taken over the Oval Office when he won the award.

But Jagland insisted Obama, who critics say has achieved little internationally, deserved the world’s top peace prize.

He stressed that the US president did not just get the prize merely based on the committee’s hopes for what he would do going forward.

“He received the prize for something he had already accomplished,” he said.

“He laid the groundwork for the START accord, aimed at limiting strategic nuclear arms,” he said, insisting that “if Obama had not come to power, we would not have the START treaty today and the whole nuclear disarmament process would have been in grave peril. That is more than enough to justify a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Jagland was equally adamant that giving last year’s prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which led an infuriated Beijing to cancel political dialogue with Oslo and may have made the laureate’s life more difficult, was the right thing to do.

“The reactions (from China) were as expected. They were not more extreme than what we expected,” he said.

“We had thought a lot about the consequences for Liu Xiaobo. We are worried about him and it is therefore very important that any discussions with Chinese authorities include raising his case and that we don’t let these Chinese authorities treat Liu Xiaobo any way they want,” he said.

“We did not expect that he would suddenly be freed. We knew that it would be more difficult for Liu. But I think that the Nobel is such an encouragement for human rights activists that it will show its true importance in the long term.”

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