OSLO/STRASBOURG - Teenage Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and a Congolese doctor dedicated to helping rape victims are the two most-hyped figures among pundits ahead of Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement.
The peace prize is the high point of the annual Nobel season and sparks frenzied speculation, no matter how frequently off the mark. But the guessing game is all that commentators have, since the list of nominees is kept secret for 50 years. All that is known is that 259 individuals and organisations were nominated this year, a new record.
In the run-up to the announcement in Oslo on Friday at 11:00 am (0900 GMT), some Nobel experts have suggested the honour will go to Malala, the teenage champion of girls’ education who defied the Taliban extremists who shot her in the head by surviving and continuing her campaign on the global stage.
Giving the prize to Malala would “carry some very, very important messages,” said the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, including “the role of education for peace, for democracy, for human rights, and not least for education for girls and women.”
But at just 16, she would be the youngest Nobel laureate by a long stretch, and her tender age could work against her, according to some experts.
“It could be a burden. Imposing that on a child might not be ethical,” said Tilman Brueck, the head of Stockholm peace research institute SIPRI.
American journalist Scott London, another Nobel expert, echoed that view.
“Malala would be a risky and potentially controversial choice for the committee in the wake of several unfortunate awards, including those to President (Barack) Obama (in 2009) and the European Union,” which received the honour last year, he said.
“There’s a growing chorus of critics around the world who insist that the prize has become overly politicised, that laureates are chosen less on merit and more on their perceived publicity value, and that the committee has, in some profound way, deviated from the original charter of the prize,” he told AFP.
Malala said herself on Wednesday she had not done enough to deserve the distinction. “There are many people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and I think that I still need to work a lot. In my opinion I have not done that much to win the Nobel Peace Prize,” she told Pakistani radio.
Gynaecologist Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo is another favourite, according to Nobel historian Asle Sveen, who has written several books on the prize. Mooted as a possible laureate many times in recent years, Mukwege has set up a hospital and foundation to help the tens of thousands of women raped by local and foreign militants, as well as by soldiers in the army. Like Malala, he was also targeted by assassins a year ago.
“The secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad has repeatedly said that the conflict in DR Congo has not gotten enough attention,” Sveen told Norwegian news agency NTB.
The committee could also choose to honour rights activists in Russia, following what Human Rights Watch has described as the worst crackdown on their work since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Nobel Prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and a prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.25 million), to be shared if there is more than one laureate.
Meanwhile, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize by the European Parliament Thursday.
To thunderous applause announcing the prize, the parliament’s president Martin Schulz said “Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected.”The parliament’s vote for Malala amid a shortlist of three nominees “acknowledges the incredible strength of this young woman,” Schulz added.
There was no immediate response from Malala, currently in New York, to winning the 50,000-euro ($65,000) Sakharov prize. It will be handed to the teenager at a ceremony in Strasbourg on November 20.
Past winners of the prize include South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.The Pakistani Taliban Thursday said Malala had done “nothing” to deserve a prestigious EU rights award and vowed to try again to kill her. “She has done nothing. The enemies of Islam are awarding her because she has left Islam and has become secular,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“She is getting awards because she is working against Islam. Her struggle against Islam is the main reason for getting these awards.”
He repeated the TTP’s threat - made numerous times in recent months - to try again to kill Malala, “even in America or the UK”.