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Arab Spring to Dominate Nobel Peace Prize, Institute Says

The so-called Arab Spring, which has displaced regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, will dominate this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the Peace Research Institute Oslo said.

The top three candidates who may get the prize include two Egyptians and one Tunisian, Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the institute which ranks potential winners, said in an interview today. The institute doesn’t help choose the winners.

Egyptian Israa Abdel Fattah together with the April 6th Youth Movement, and Wael Ghonim, also of Egypt, are the “top two picks,” Berg Harpviken said. Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger, is the institute’s third favorite.

Tunisia’s ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January began the so-called Arab Spring, as an uprising led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign in Egypt. Protests have also threatened the Assad family’s hold on Syria and President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule in Yemen, while Libyan opposition leaders are forming a new government after Muammar Qaddafi has lost control of the country.

“The main direction to look in this year, is the Arab spring,” Berg Harpviken said by phone from Oslo. “This committee has been very clear about its intention to be in tune with current developments and even use the prize to affect current developments.”

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Fattah, an internet activist and blogger, co-founded the April 6th Youth Movement group on Facebook in 2008. Ghonim, who has worked for Google Inc., helped set up a website for Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei. Ghonim’s 11-day detention turned him into a hero for disaffected Egyptian youth.

The institute’s fourth pick is Memorial, a Russian organization focused on reconciliation through historical documentation, alongside founding member Svetlana Gannushkina. Ghazi bin Muhammad, a professor of philosophy and member of the Jordanian royal family, is Berg Harpviken’s fifth pick.

A record 241 nominations were put forth for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Of the nominees, 53 were organizations and the rest individuals, the Oslo-based Nobel Institute said in March. The tally surpasses last year’s record of 237. The names of the nominees weren’t disclosed.

Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the prize last year for his work to promote human rights and democracy, an award that was denounced by authorities in Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama won in 2009.

The winner is picked by the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, which keeps its deliberations secret. The decision is announced on Oct. 7 and the award is handed out in a ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, who in his will set up prizes for achievements in peace, physics, medicine, chemistry and literature. The other awards are decided in Sweden.

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