I was thrilled to hear last week that Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger who was at the forefront of human rights cyber activism ahead of the revolution, is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded tomorrow. If chosen, she would most likely share the prize with one or more Egyptian bloggers.
Along with other activist bloggers in Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Ben Mhenni wrote on issues such as press freedom and women’s rights. But unlike many bloggers, who hid their identities to avoid harassment and detention by government officials, Ben Mhenni defied the press ban, blogging under her own name. For her, daring to speak the truth without fear was the only way to effect a change. As the revolution progressed, she traveled throughout Tunisia at considerable personal risk, documenting protests and regime brutality, and posting photos of young people injured or killed by police forces.
A prize awarded to Ben Mhenni would acknowledge her personal courage, and also in some sense honor all the Tunisians who braved batons and bullets to peacefully demand freedom and self-determination. It would be a symbolic affirmation of the importance of the revolution as a catalyst for the Arab Spring, and a gesture of hope toward the fruition of the dreams Arab youth throughout the region have proclaimed as their own. Coming just before Tunisia’s historic elections, a Nobel Peace Prize would re-affirm the world’s commitment to supporting fragile emerging democracies, and underscore the importance of this new dawn in the Middle East.
The Nobel Committee has a history of using the prize not just as a reward for those who have promoted peace, but as an encouragement for people and organizations they feel are in a position to make pivotal contributions in the future. A free and democratic Middle East would have the potential to dramatically move the world toward peace. At a moment when the Arab Spring has faltered in some areas, and continues to be brutally repressed in others, a vote of confidence and affirmation from the world outside would be a welcome breath of fresh, hopeful air, in an atmosphere that seems in some ways to be falling bleakly back into the long winter of despotism.
So I’m casting my vote for Lina Ben Mhenni and her colleagues of the Arab Spring. Whether she wins the Nobel Peace Prize or not, this is a wonderful opportunity to let the dictators of the world remember that we are committed to a future of peace with free and democratic equals around the world.