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You're reading: Religious leaders and Russians favoured for Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO - Russian dissidents and religious leaders working for Muslim-Christian reconciliation are among the favourites to win the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize when the result is announced on Friday.

The year has brought few notable peace breakthroughs,
leaving an unusually large selection of names in circulation and
perhaps increasing the chance of a surprise winner.

“I’m pretty sure the committee would like to honour the
monumental events in the Middle East,” said Jan Egeland, the
Director of Human Rights Watch Europe.

“But as the Arab Spring turns to ‘autumn’, this is becoming
very difficult, so an approach may be to look at those who work
for dialogue among religions,” said Egeland, a former United
Nations under-secretary-general.

The betting agency Unibet favours Maggie Gobran, a Coptic
Christian nun who runs a children’s mission in Cairo, giving her
a 13 percent chance of winning.

Others mentioned include Pakistani philanthropist and
welfare worker Abdul Sattar Edhi and Nigerian religious leaders
John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, who have helped to
calm their country’s Christian-Muslim violence this year.

A direct recognition of the Arab Spring is unlikely,
however, as the committee gave part of its 2011 award to the
journalist Tawakkol Karman to recognise her work in Yemen’s
transformation, and it rarely visits an issue two years running.

RUSSIAN RIGHTS

The committee could recognise the struggle to prevent an
erosion of human rights in Russia. Such a choice would probably
touch off a diplomatic row, especially as committee chair
Thorbjoern Jagland is also the secretary-general of the Council
of Europe, which promotes human rights, democracy and the rule
of law in its 47 member countries, including Russia.

“Jagland is always criticised on the grounds that there’s a
conflict of interest here and that he wouldn’t dare to anger the
Russians,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace
Research Institute Oslo. “So perhaps he’s inclined to prove his
critics wrong.”

Although the Norwegian Nobel Committee is independent of the
government, its members are picked by parliament and Jagland is
a former prime minister, so foreign governments often see it as
an affiliate of the Norwegian state.

China froze diplomatic ties with Norway in 2010 when
Jagland’s committee gave the prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo,
accusing Norway of interfering in its internal affairs.

“Russian names are always on the list but if they wanted to
give democracy-oriented movements in Russia a push, this would
be the year for that,” Egeland said.

Criticism of Russia’s human rights record grew louder this
year as the government cracked down on free speech ahead of
presidential elections, and members of the punk band Pussy Riot
were jailed for a protest in Moscow’s main cathedral against
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s dominant leader for almost 13 years.

The list of potential Russian laureates includes Svetlana
Gannushkina and the civil rights society Memorial that she helps
to lead, and the radio station Ekho Moskvy and its editor Alexei
Venediktov.

NOT PUSSY RIOT

Pussy Riot itself is unlikely even to be considered as
nominations for the prize closed on Feb. 1, before the band
gained international attention.

The committee received 231 nominations this year, including
43 organisations. It usually narrows the list to between 25 and
35 names at its first meeting, said Geir Lundestad, the
committee’s executive secretary.

By April, the list is narrowed again, usually to between
five and seven names. A decision is made about two weeks before
the announcement.

The winner will receive 8 million Swedish crowns ($1.21
million), 2 million less than last year, as the economic
downturn has taken a toll on Alfred Nobel’s estate.

Other names in vogue include Gene Sharp, a retired American
professor of political science known for his work on non-violent
struggle, and the Afghan doctor and politician Sima Samar, an
advocate of women’s rights in the Muslim world.

The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has Sharp as its favourite,
followed by Samar.

The year’s most notable advance towards peace has been
Myanmar’s gradual democratisation but the committee has already
honoured opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the government
is unlikely to be recognised merely for being less totalitarian,
experts said.

“If they wanted to do something really different, they would
look at South Sudan and a fairly exemplary peace process there,”
said Iver Neumann, professor of international relations at the
London School of Economics.

“But the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is never adventurous, I
think they’ll find somebody like themselves, a mainstream
politician who clinched some type of deal.”

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