Liberia leader among Nobel prize winners

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wins Peace Prize along with Liberian and Yemeni activists for their “struggle” for women’s rights

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, is Africa’s first elected female head of state [EPA]

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni women’s rights activist Tawakul Karman have been named winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the names at a ceremony in the capital, Oslo, on Friday, saying the three were honoured for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” the prize committee said.
The committee said that since her inauguration in 2006, Johnson-Sirleaf had “contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women”.
Gbowee mobilised and organised women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections, said the committee.
It said Yemen’s Karman had “played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen” in what it called the most trying circumstances both before and during the ‘Arab Spring'”.

Leymah Gbowee will share the prize with her president and Yemeni rights activist [Reuters]

The winners will receive their award at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of prize founder Alfred Nobel.

Sirleaf, who became Africa’s first elected female head of state in 2005 and is seeking re-election in Tuesday’s polls, had been widely tipped to scoop the award.

The AFP news agency had cited reports by Norwegian commercial broadcaster TV2, which said on Thursday it had reason to believe Johnson-Sirleaf would be getting the call on Friday.

“[Sirleaf] is the symbol of the new Africa,” said TV2, which in 2009 correctly predicted the surprise win by Barack Obama, the US president.

Al Jazeera’s Will Jordan, reporting from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, said the prize would be a “big benefit” for Johnson-Sirleaf in her re-election bid.

But our correspondent said the she might struggle to win votes in the capital as most of her supportes live in rural areas.

The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, had told  public broadcaster NRK earlier on Thursday that he believed this year’s pick would be “well-received all over the world.”

He said then that the award would be “very powerful … but at the same time very unifying”.

Observers’ favourite played down

While the 2011 pick “is not without conflict”, he stressed the prize would “not create as strong reactions from a single country as it did last year” with the choice of Liu Xiaobo.

He also played down observers’ favourite this year: actors within the Arab Spring uprising, which brought the overthrow of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattled the ones in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

“There are many other positive developments in the world that we have looked at,” he said.

“I think it is a little strange that researchers and others have not seen them,” he added.

Shad Hamid, director of research at Brookings Institute in Qatar, told Al Jazeera the choice of the three women was “both surprising and disappointing”.

“People were very excited and thought this year would be the year of the Arab Spring. I am not sure what the rationale was exactly, but I I think this might be interpreted as a slight to the Arab world,” he said.

Esraa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher of Egypt, who founded the April 6th youth movement, were seen as top picks.

The movement, which began on Facebook, “played a key role in maintaining the direction and non-violent character of the uprisings in Egypt,” which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February after 30 years in power, Kristian Berg Harpviken, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, said.

Tawakkul Karman won the prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women [EPA]

Google executive Wael Ghonim, also a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square in Cairo, was another observer favourite, as was Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country on the Internet.

Among other names that had been circulating were Sima Samar, an Afghan doctor and women’s rights activist, and Russian activist Svetlana Gannushkina and her human rights group, Memorial.

The EU, currently battling spiralling debt problems in the eurozone, had also been increasingly mentioned as a possible winner for its role in keeping the peace in most of Europe for more than half a century.

Although Norway is not a member of the EU, Jagland, who happens to also be the head of the Council of Europe, is an outspoken supporter of the bloc.

In an article published by Norwegian daily VG on Wednesday, the Nobel Committee chief confided that this year’s prize would “go to something that has been important to me all my life”.

Others tipped for the prestigious prize were Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya Sardinas and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.


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