Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Revisiting the Nobel Peace Prize

Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby recalls his time as ambassador in Norway, seat of the most prestigious of all annual awards

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two recent events related to the Nobel Peace Prize invited me to recall the procedures and rules used in granting this prize. The first was when Dr Mohamed Mukhtar Gomaa, minister of religious endowments, suggested nominating President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Whatever the motivations of the minister, I am not aware that the call was followed up with any procedures. The second event was when the Nobel Prize was recently granted to the Tunisian commission that drafted the constitution, “for its decisive role in building a plurality-based democratic system.”

My experience with the Nobel Peace Prize started when I was appointed Egypt’s ambassador to Norway, serving in that post from 1990 to 1994. Among the institutions I wanted to visit at the beginning of my formal working years was the Nobel Institute. I became a regular visitor to the institute, particularly its library.

The director of the institute was a distinguished scholar and well known to academic institutions and publications. The institute’s library reminded me of the Library of Congress, in the sense that it receives every publication in the humanities. What also attracted me in the library was its periodicals room, which contained almost every known periodical in the world.

The director of the library was a Jewish Norwegian lady. Conversing with her revealed her expansive knowledge. She was kind enough to grant me an exception, knowing my time constraints: she allowed me to borrow periodicals at the weekend, returning them in the early morning of the next week.

I am indeed grateful to the Nobel Institute library where, throughout my few years in Norway, I read with interest the most important books and periodicals on foreign affairs and other cultural issues.

Those who know about the Nobel Prize are aware that, regarding the Peace Prize, it was Alfred Nobel who trusted Norway to grant the prize annually. The Nobel Institute in Oslo is the institution that supervises the rules and procedures of selecting the man or the woman who will win the prize.

The Norwegian parliament appoints a committee of selected independent figures who decide on who will win the prize among maybe a hundred nominees. The Nobel Committee is totally independent, and Norwegian official institutions have nothing to do with the decision of the committee.

This reminded me that in 1993 I received instructions from Cairo to meet the Norwegian foreign minister to ask his support in nominating former President Hosni Mubarak for the Nobel Peace Prize. I tried to explain to Cairo the rules and procedures of granting the prize — that the foreign minister, or any other Norwegian official institution, has no role or say in granting the prize.

Surprisingly, Cairo repeated the instructions. As a disciplined diplomat, I met with the Norwegian foreign minister, whom I had good relations with. He repeated to me the rules and procedures of the prize and said that his ministry could not interfere in this issue. Personally, I was very embarrassed; the man might think this is an ambassador who does not know the rules of the institutions of the country he is accredited to.

Every year, Norway hosts a very solemn and dignified event to grant the Nobel Peace Prize to the selected recipient. The last event I witnessed was when both the African leader Nelson Mandela and South African Prime Minister F W de Klerk were granted the prize for their role in ending apartheid in South Africa. When I introduced myself to Mandela he proudly noted that Egypt had fully supported the struggle of the South African people.

I recalled that when the revolution erupted on 25 January 2011 the world and its leading figures admired the Egyptian people and, particularly, the youth for the uprising. Given my experience with the Nobel Peace Prize, I suggested that the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs nominate the Egyptian revolution for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We wrote to the Nobel Institute, in accordance with its rules and procedures, and recommended other think tanks and universities to second the nomination. It seems the trouble and insecurity that followed the first days of the revolution was not encouraging.

Recently, friend and journalist Aisha Abdel Ghafour wrote about her visit to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm and recommended Bibliotheca Alexandria establish relations and cooperation with this museum.

This encouraged me to recommend that the Bibliotheca Alexandria establish such a cooperation with the Nobel Institute in Oslo, as both institutions have a common interest in promoting understanding between cultures and civilisations.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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