Nobel season kicks off with medicine prize

This year’s Nobel season opens on Monday with the medicine prize announcement, with the prestigious awards for peace and literature both tipped to be coloured by the Arab Spring.

The names of the nominees for the Nobel prizes are kept secret by the various committees, but like every year speculation has reached fever pitch about who will be awarded 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 jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo last year.

Nobel watchers say that in a year so dominated by the Arab Spring uprising, which led to the overthrow of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattled the ones in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, an activist from that movement might get the call on October 7.

“The Arab spring is the favourite topic this year,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.


If an actor in the Arab Spring uprising is honoured, Harpviken said his top pick would be Israa Abdel Fattah of Egypt and the April 6th youth Movement that she co-founded with Ahmed Maher in 2008.

The movement, which began on Facebook, “played a key role in maintaining the direction and non-violent character of the uprisings in Egypt”, he said.

Also on Harpviken’s shortlist was Google executive Wael Ghonim, “a principled non-violence activist” who was a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square.

Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” could also inspire this year’s award, in which case Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country, figures among the favourites.

Other names circulating are Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar, Russian human rights organisation Memorial, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Germany’s ex-chanceller Helmut Kohl and the European Union.

Syrian poet seen as favourite
For the literature prize, which last year went to Peruvian-Spanish author Mario Vargas Llosa, literary circles suggest the situation in the Middle East could also play a role in the Swedish Academy’s choice, with Syrian poet Adonis tipped as a favourite.

In June, Adonis, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said and who lives in France, published an open letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a Lebanese newspaper urging him to end the bloody repression.

Online betting site Ladbrokes tipped Adonis as the favourite on September 30, just ahead of Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer.

Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Somalia’s Nuruddin Farah, Hungary’s Peter Nadas, Korean poet Ko Un, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, India’s Vijaydan Detha and Australia’s Les Murray also figure among the favourites for this year’s literature prize, which will most probably be announced on October 6 but could come on any Thursday in October.

The field is meanwhile seen as wide open for the prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry, to be announced on October 3, 4 and 5, although they have in the post-war period been dominated by American researchers.

The economics prize, which will wrap up the season on October 10, is meanwhile not expected to be heavily coloured by the debt crises currently raging in Europe and the United States.

Prize committee chairperson Per Krusell pointed out that there “tends to be a long lag from the time the research is done until it is awarded,” and observers said research in the fields of political economics, economic growth or consumption were more likely to receive the coveted nod.

Laureates receive 10-million Swedish kronor ($1.48-million) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The peace prize will be handed out in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Other Nobel laureates will pick up their prizes in Stockholm on the same day. – AFP

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Nina Larson
Nina Larson
Covering the United Nations agencies and other international organisations based in Geneva, as well as Swiss news for international readers. Producing news articles and features, translating and editing articles written by other correspondents in English and French, and shooting and editing video for AFPTV.

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