October 18, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5488

Assad Supporters, Opponents Argue: Who Should Have Received The Nobel Peace Prize?

October 18, 2013
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 5488

The decision to award the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) sparked intense controversy in the Arab press between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. According to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the prize recognizes the OPCW's extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, not only in Syria but worldwide. However, many in the media, in the Arab world and outside it, assessed that the organization had been chosen specifically because of its activity in Syria. This activity started shortly before the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, after the U.S. and Russia came to an agreement on dismantling Syria's chemical weapons following the August 2013 chemical attack in Al-Ghouta, in which 1,400 people were killed.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad argued that it is he who deserves the prize for his contribution to regional and global peace, and some even circulated a petition calling for award him the prize, or for awarding him and Russian President Vladimir Putin an alternative "popular peace prize."

Assad's opponents, on the other hand, argued that the Nobel Committee had completely disregarded the fact that most of the victims of the Syrian crisis were killed with conventional heavy weapons, and that the fighting, in which the death toll is already over 100,000, is continuing in full force. They also pointed out that the OPCW only implements existing agreements, and that it was not responsible for decisions to dismantle chemical weapons; therefore, they said, it would have made more sense to award the prize to those who had drawn up the agreement – that is, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Further, Assad's opponents claimed that the Nobel Committee's decision had been influenced by political considerations, just like its decision in 2009, when the prize was awarded to U.S. President Barack Obama immediately following his election and based solely upon statements that he had made.

Many writers pointed out that there are much worthier candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, such as Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for her activities.

This report reviews the debate in the Arab press over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW.

Supporters Of The Syrian Regime: The Prize Should Have Gone To Bashar Al-Assad

The Syrian regime and its supporters welcomed the awarding of the prize to the OPCW, perceiving it as awarded to the Syrian regime itself for consenting to the destruction of its chemical weapons. In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Syrian regime, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said that it should have gone to him.[1] Although according to the newspaper the remark had been made in jest, it apparently reflects a common sentiment among supporters of the Syrian regime.

It Is The Syrian State That Deserves The Prize

Muhi Al-Din Muhammad, editor-in-chief of the Syrian government daily Teshreen, argued in an article titled "A Nobel Prize for the Syrian State" that the Nobel Peace Prize had really been awarded to Syria and its president Bashar Al-Assad, who had demonstrated that the Syrians would make every effort to preserve global security and stability. He wrote:

"Syria's compliance with the Russian initiative for [dismantling its] chemical arsenal, and its serious response to the experts who are performing their mission under a timetable that is progressing [even] faster than planned, are attracting unprecedented international interest. The interest does not focus on the disposal of the chemical weapons, but on the Syrian state, which has proved unstinting in its efforts to establish regional and global peace and security, even while suffering from extremely difficult security conditions and contending with terrorism and terrorists of every kind.

"By supporting the implementation of [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 2118 [calling for the destruction of its chemical weapons, Syria] is acting responsibly towards the region's nations, some of whose leaders became involved in an anti-Syrian conspiracy that began over 30 months ago – despite their awareness that their actions would have far more dangerous repercussions than the chemical weapons [themselves], particularly for their own nations.

"If those involved in the anti-Syrian conspiracy were previously unaware that Syria is a global safety valve, and that it will not be possible to establish global peace and security unless it is extricated from the severe calamity that it is facing, then they should look at the [decision about the] Nobel Peace Prize and ponder the meaning of [the fact that] it was awarded to the OPCW. This prize – as most of the Western media agree – was not awarded to the organization but to Syria and to President Bashar Al-Assad, who emphasized that he would spare no effort to preserve international peace and security...

"I fervently hope that the Nobel Prize, which the organization received thanks to the Syrian compliance with its efforts, will help to expose those who supported and still support terrorism and to [display] a true picture of Syria, its people, its army and its leadership, who are [all] fighting terror... and restoring security to their territory, to the region and to the world."[2]

The Nobel Committee Made A Mistake: The Prize Should Go To Assad And Putin

Nasser Qandil, a Lebanese journalist who is close to the Syrian regime, published on his news website a petition calling to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Russian President Vladimir Putin and to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, since, he said, it is they who drew up the agreement for dismantling the chemical weapons, while the OPCW is only implementing it. The petition states:

"Given that, according to its charter, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to those who made a significant contribution to world peace, to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, to the prevention of wars between countries and peoples, and to reducing weapons arsenals and the use [of weapons], especially weapons of mass destruction;

"Given that this principle is applicable regardless of the candidate's political circumstances;

"Given that the most dangerous crisis since the Second World War, [in terms of] threatening humanity with a destructive conflict, was the U.S. threat of a war on Syria, with the concentration of forces and the escalation that accompanied it;

"Given that the initiative of the Russian president... and the courageous decision of the Syrian president to accept it, together averted the dangers of a war that could have escalated into a world war, and caused deadly weapons that are defined as weapons of mass destruction to be collected and destroyed;

"Given that this achievement is clear, and [since the fact that] it was made as part of [an effort] to prevent war does not detract from its value, but actually increases its value, because [this objective] was the basis of the decision and initiative;

"Given that the charges directed at the Syrian president are not the concern of the Nobel [Committee], and that the granting of a Nobel Prize to a deserving individual does not prevent this individual from later being brought before a national or international court, or before a human rights [court], on other charges, contrary to what the accusers claim;

"In light of all the above, we the undersigned demand that the decision of the [Nobel] Prize committee be amended, and that the prize be rescinded from the [OPCW] organization, whose administrative mission is [merely] to implement the intiative and decision that were the basis of this achievement and without which there would have been no point in what the organization is doing or what the international community is doing in this matter. [Instead, we demand] that this prize be awarded to those who merit it: Russian Preident Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

"We, the undersigned, undertake to realize an initiative to award an alternative popular peace prize to the two presidents, and to establish a peace prize named after them, The Putin and Assad Peace Prize, that will be awarded annually based on pure and well-considered criteria to worthy candidates from among those who promote peace. The organizers wish to involve [in this initiative] all elites, intellectuals, writers, thinkers, civil society organizations and figures, legal experts, peace activist and citizens, [both] Arabs and from across the world, and hope that this initiative becomes a springboard for spreading the true meaning and legal [aspects] of peace."[3]

It should be noted that the petition has so far been signed by some 600 people from around the world.

Assad's Opponents: Awarding The Prize To The OPCW – A Mistake

As mentioned, the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW sparked extensive criticism among the Syrian opposition and from opponents of the Assad regime in the Arab press. They argued that chemical weapons had killed only a tiny fraction of the total victims in Syria, and therefore the prize disregarded the deaths of over 100,000 Syrians; that the OPCW was merely an implementing body, and the prize should have gone to the decision makers; that the OPCW should not be awarded a prize before successfully completing its mission, and that, in this war-torn world, no one is deserving of a peace prize, and therefore the prize should be canceled altogether.

The Nobel Committee Disregarded Over 100,000 Syrian Victims Of Conventional Weapons

Qassem Sa'd Al-Din, member and spokesman of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, argued that the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons came to serve the security of Israel, not of the Syrians, and that the West was "disregarding over 115,000 dead, and millions of displaced persons whom Assad has expelled from their homes..."

He added: "Once the Western countries' objective of neutralizing the regime's chemical weapons is attained, they will present the criminal Bashar Al-Assad as a man of peace. We do not [even] rule out the possibility that he will be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, his ally and accomplice in the killing of Syrians.[4]

Columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Watan: "Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW is an unmatched farce, not only because the efforts to destroy Syria's chemical weapons are just beginning, but [also] because disposing of [weapons] like these Syrian weapons takes a very long time, perhaps years...

"Likewise, it is incomprehensible that a Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to this organization when every day Syrians continue to be killed and turned into refugees with planes, missiles and tanks. Does this mean that the next time around the Nobel Peace Prize might be awarded to Russia if it stops arming the Syrian regime?...

"If [the organization] was awarded the prize because the effort to destroy the chemical arsenal will help establish peace in Syria, this creates a mistaken impression, especially when – and I am making this argument for the millionth time – the [total] number of victims [claimed by] Sukhoi planes and Scud missiles has exceeded 150,000, whereas the chemical weapons victims total no more than 1,400 civilians. In Syria's case, conventional weapons are much more lethal and destructive than chemical weapons...

"Prior to its decision, the body [awarding the prize] should have considered that the devastation in Syria has not ceased, and is not even expected to decline in the foreseeable future."[5]

Samir 'Atallah, columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote on a sarcastic note: "I don't know about you, but I am personally feeling very satisfied and even elated. Two unique global events [have occurred:] the Syrian regime's compliance with the destruction of its chemical arsenal, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an organization that opposes the proliferation of these weapons. Both are victories for humanity, following which only a few simple details will remain, marginal and insignificant, [such as] the millions of Syrian refugees [living] outside their country, the millions of [Syrians who are] missing, impoverished and unemployed, the tens of thousands arrested or kidnapped, and the tens of thousands killed – not to mention the fate of Syria as a state and a homeland...

"The international community is an unfunny clown. Instead of addressing the massacre of 100,000 people with conventional weapons (tanks, planes, artillery and knives), it [focuses on] the massacre of 1,400 people [with chemical weapons]. The interested parties have begun congratulating each other: [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry congratulated Syrian President [Bashar Al-Assad for his cooperation with the U.N. inspectors], and is expected to congratulate him again after the upcoming [presidential] elections..."[6]

Nobel Peace Prize for the OPCW, a chemical weapons medal for Assad (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, October 17, 2013)

The OPCW Is Only An Implementing Body; The Prize Should Go To Those Who Made The Decisions

Fateh 'Abd Al-Salam, a columnist for the London-based Iraqi daily Al-Zaman, wrote: "Had the OPCW been able to expose or destroy the [chemical] weapons of any country without a political resolution by the Security Council, then this organization would have [really] merited a prize for its ability. Had it been able [to bring charges] against any country possessing chemical weapons without a debate in the Security Council, it would have been worthy of a prize. [But, in actual fact, this organization is merely] a group of international experts and functionaries who perform their job at a [specific] time and place, as specified in the assignment given them. Spotlighting the efforts of this organization, [and] conferring upon it one of the [world's] top prizes and distinctions... when it has not yet completed its mission and before this organization and the Security Council have published a final report confirming that Syria is free of chemical weapons... is [nothing but] propaganda calculated to salute the American and Russian role in this international arrangement that was reached peacefully."[7]

Sati' Nour Al-Din, a Lebanese journalist who a year ago resigned as editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, which is close to the Syrian regime, due to differences on politics and coverage of the events in Syria, wrote that the Nobel committee had acted rashly and without deliberation, because the OPCW has only begun its mission in Syria and its success cannot yet be assessed. He argued that Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov were more deserving of the prize than the OPWC, for it was they who had drawn up the agreement for dismantling the chemical weapons, whereas the OPCW is merely carrying it out. He wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mudun, which he owns: "Unlike its Swedish counterpart that deals with science and literature, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee is usually wrong. Its choice this year may be less unfortunate than [its choices] in previous years, but it [still] makes one wonder whether the committee members actually follow events on the ground...

"Just as in the case of many previous candidacies and selections, the committee acted rashly... The OPCW is worthy of our appreciation, but if it is being [given the prize for carrying out] the tough Syrian mission, then [the prize] was awarded too soon. The prize should have undoubtedly been given to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who drew up this historical agreement that has saved Syria from additional tragedies and its neighbors from terrible dangers...

"Thus far, the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize has done nothing but take tours and make arrangements, and [its mission] is still in its infancy. We can cautiously say that the Syrian regime is cooperating with this agreement, but not that the organization has completed its mission, or that it has been given final guarantees that the Syrian chemical arsenal will be destroyed within six to nine months, as was agreed, or that it will not be used again against Syrian civilians during that time. The Norwegian committee has awarded the prize to the OPCW for a job it has just begun, and the impression this leaves is that the prize was also implicitly awarded to President Bashar Al-Assad for agreeing to relinquish these forbidden weapons...

The Nobel Prize was actually awarded to Assad (Al-Iqtisadiyya, Saudi Arabia, October 12, 2013)

"The committee may have overlooked these small details and fleeting impressions, but its past decisions strengthen the doubt regarding the seriousness of its selection this year, and recall the many prizes awarded in the past to unworthy candidates, such as the European Union; the three women, one of whom was the Yemeni Tawakkol Karman; U.S. President Barack Obama immediately following his election; Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi; and a long list of Soviet defectors..." [8]

Similar criticism was published in the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which as of a few months ago is owned by Qatar: "The Nobel Peace Prize committee's selection of the OPCW this year is a political statement that conforms to the Nobel Committee's practice of taking a stand. This selection will undoubtedly stir controversy, [as it] follows a number of poor selections, most notably the European Union in 2012 and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, who was chosen before he had any achievement.

"The OPCW, whose role is to implement the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, ratified in 1997, was [also] selected despite having no achievements whatsoever on the ground. Its task in Syria begins today, and it will take months to complete it (if it is ever completed). Likewise, the organization cannot guarantee to the world that these weapons, which were used only a few weeks ago in Syria, will never be used again. The organization, whose headquarters and experts are based in a wealthy suburb of The Hague, has not achieved its [stated] objective – compelling the [signatory] states, including the U.S. and Russia, to destroy [their stock of] chemical weapons no later than April 2012. More importantly, the organization cannot compel states such as Israel and North Korea to sign and ratify the convention.

"Instead of political posturing, the world expected the Nobel Prize Committee... to insist on humanitarian principles and the human role in making peace. There are many organizations that have been struggling for years [in these areas] and that continue to operate, whether or not they have received a prize..."[9]

There Were Worthier Prize Candidates

Some argued that there were worthier candidates for the prize, such Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist who survived being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. Sati' Nour Al-Din wrote in his Lebanese daily Al-Mudun: "16-year-old Malala Yousafzai would have been the best choice for [the prize] this year, but it seems that the committee decided not to provoke the Taliban, which has already tried to assassinate this brave girl, unique among all the young women of the Muslim world, not to mention the fact that the Americans are preparing to reach understandings with the movement regarding their peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan before the end of next year.

"Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg would have definitely been a better choice than the OPCW, [whose prize] could have waited until it finished its difficult mission in Syria next year... Once again, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee has made an indefensible and incomprehensible mistake..."[10]

Ahmad Al-Faraj, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, wrote: "The entire world expected that the young girl Malala Yousafzai would win the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize... Had she won, the prize might have regained a bit of its luster. But politics continues to deliberately destroy the reputation of this prize, so it was awarded to the OPCW!!..."[11]

The Prize Is Superfluous; Nobody In This War-Torn World Deserves It

Iraqi columnist Fatah 'Abd Al-Salam called for suspending or even completely cancelling the Nobel Peace Prize, because, he said, with all the wars going on in the world, there is no individual or organization worthy of it. He wrote:

"The world is in flames and children are the first victims. Nobody will be worthy of the prize before peace is established in Syria, not through a fragile [agreement] pertaining to Syria's chemical weapons, but by granting legitimacy to human freedom. No one is worthy of the prize if he sits idly by, watching Iraq suffering the superfluous death of thousands of people without anyone batting an eyelash...

"The only thing that remains to be done with the Nobel Peace Prize is to suspend it in protest over the bloodshed and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the disasters whose destructive repercussions will manifest themselves in two to three generations or more. There is no one currently worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, and out of respect for human rights, it must be rejected, suspended, or canceled until peace has arrived."[12]


[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 14, 2013. For excerpts from the interview, see MEMRI Special Dispatch 4580, Bashar Al-Assad: The Nobel Peace Prize Should Have Gone To Me October 15, 2013.

[2] Teshrin (Syria), October 14, 2013.

[3], October 13, 2013.

[4] Al-Fajr (Egypt), October 11, 2013.

[5] Al-Watan (Qatar), October 13, 2013.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 16, 2013.

[7] Al-Zaman (London), October 11, 2013.

[8] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), October 12, 2013.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 11, 2013.

[10] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), October 12, 2013.

[11] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), October 17, 2013.

[12] Al-Zaman (London), October 11, 2013.

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