As the winds of liberation and freedom sweep across the Arab world aided by social media, cyber activists from North Africa are seen as front runners for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to be announced in Oslo Friday.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s list of candidates –this year a record 241 names long –is a closely-kept secret.
Experts however agree it would be timely for the prestigious award to go to 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.
As for the Nobel Committee, chairman Thorbjoern Jagland would only tell AFP last week that “it has not been particularly difficult this year” to decide on a winner.
“There have of course been numerous worrying tendencies in the world that run counter to peace, but there have also been a number of positive tendencies,” he said.
Since he took over as Nobel Committee chairman in 2009, Jagland has not hesitated to make waves, controversially handing the prize that year to U.S. President Barack Obama, who had only just taken over the Oval Office.
And last year, the prize went to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, to the outrage of Beijing.
Observers though said they believed this year's pick would be more consensual.
“The Arab Spring is the favorite topic this year,” Kristian Berg Harpviken, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, said.
“The current committee has been very clear that it wants the prize to be in tune with the times and, even more than that, it wants the prize to have an impact on political developments,” he said.
If an actor in the Arab Spring uprising is honored, Harpviken said his top pick would be Esraa 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,” which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February after 30 years in power, 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 in Cairo.
Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution,” which ended Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali’s more than 23-year reign, could also inspire this year’s award, in which case Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the revolution in her country on the Internet, figures among the favorites.
Asle Sveen, a historian specialized in the prize, said he believed this year’s Nobel could go jointly to Ben Mhenni and Egyptian Abdel Fattah.
“They stand for the same. They’re moderate Muslims, women and they use the social media as a glue to the revolutions,” he explained.
Since the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901, only 12 women have won, the last of whom was recently deceased Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, who took the top honor in 2004.
If the Nobel Committee wants to add another woman to its list, this year’s prize could also go to Afghan doctor and human and women’s rights activist Sima Samar, or Russian activist Svetlana Gannushkina.
Giving the award to Gannushkina and the Memorial human rights group she co-founded “would be a well-deserved prize and an invaluable boost for human rights groups currently under pressure in Russia,” Bjoern Engesland, who heads the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, told AFP.
The answer will be unveiled at the Nobel Institute in Oslo on Friday at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).