In a letter to Henrik Urdal, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Afghan protesting women have demanded the removal of Mahbooba Siraj’s name from the list of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On February 1, 2023, PRIO announced the list of those who have been nominated by its director, Henrik Urdal, to receive the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize.
According to the list, Mahbooba Siraj from Afghanistan and Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian human rights activist, have been jointly nominated for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. The names of several other individuals and institutions from other corners of the world are also included in the list.
Urdal has said that this year, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he has focused on human rights defenders and activists as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On the PRIO website, Mahbooba Siraj has been introduced as a “prominent Afghan journalist and human rights activist”, adding she returned to Afghanistan in 2003 after 26 years of exile and now lives in Kabul.
But Afghan protesting women have criticized Siraj’s nomination by the PRIO to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In this report, the conditions for nomination to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Siraj’s views on the current situation in Afghanistan, and the reasons why Afghan women protest against her nomination to receive the Nobel Prize are examined.
How Are the Nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize Introduced?
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes and one of the most prestigious international prizes which, by the will of a Swedish scientist and inventor, Alfred Nobel, is awarded to those who, during one year, “has done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
Parliaments members, heads of independent governments, university professors, authorities of peace and foreign policy research institutions, former winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, and current and former members and advisers of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are qualified to nominate candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation.
Each year, these organizations and individuals have to introduce their nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize until January 31. The Nobel Committee, whose five members are elected by the Norwegian Parliament, examines the list of nominees and makes the list a little shorter. By October, the committee determines and announces the final winner, and the prize is awarded at a ceremony held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
The PRIO is also among the institutions that can nominate a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and, since 2002, its officials have presented a list of their nominees to the committee.
This year, PRIO has nominated Mahboba Siraj from Afghanistan and Narges Mohammadi from Iran as nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize for their human rights activities.
From Afghanistan, Sima Samar, the former head of the Independent Human Rights Commission (in 2009 and 2010), the female cyclist team in 2016, and Fawzia Kofi, a former member of the Parliament (in 2020), have yet been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but none of them have won this prize.
Sima Samar had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Independent Institute of International Peace Studies, the Afghan female cyclist team by the Italian Parliament members, and Fawzia Kofi by the Norwegian Peace Council.
Mahbooba Siraj and Afghanistan Under the Taliban
Mahbooba Siraj grew up in a royal family whose lineage goes back to Abdur Rahman Khan, the former king of Afghanistan (from 1880 to 1901). She studied at Malalai High School and Kabul University.
After living in America for about 26 years, she returned to Kabul in 2003. She has always introduced herself as a “journalist” and “women’s rights advocate” and has been working under these titles.
After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, while the restrictions on Afghan women increased day to day and reached a stage of their complete exclusion from society, Mahbooba Siraj stayed in Afghanistan and the Taliban have not yet hindered her activities.
Siraj is now the only woman in Afghanistan who lives freely without complying with the Taliban’s order regarding wearing an all-covering head-to-toe burqa. She also travels to different countries to participate in international conferences without being accompanied by a close male family member (mahram), which the Taliban have made mandatory for millions of other Afghan women.
In a special interview on November 15, 2022, Haroon Najafizada, an Afghanistan International journalist, asked Mrs. Siraj about how she left Kabul without a male escort (mahram). She said that since the Taliban takeover, she had made about 100 trips outside of Afghanistan. “On none of these trips, I have been asked about my Mahram,” she added.
In this interview, she denied the reports on the forced marriage of the Taliban fighters with Afghan women and girls and related forced marriages to other -such as family- issues.
About the reason for not supporting the Afghan girls’ street protests, Siraj said that she had told the girls “if you bring a group of 1000 people, I will join you”. Implicitly, she called these protests ineffective and “self-defeating.”
So far, Siraj has repeatedly called for the interaction of the countries with the Taliban, the terrorist group. “After 18 months of inclemency, it is the time to listen to the Taliban and reach an agreement with them,” she said in her last interview with Foreign Policy, after being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She advocates this point of view while Afghan protesting women call the Taliban’s policy towards women “gender apartheid” and fight for overthrowing their regime.
Lobbying for the Taliban
Protesting women in Afghanistan are objecting to Mahbooba Siraj’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. They accuse her of lobbying for the Taliban, the terrorist group, due to the fact that she has always insisted on the world’s interaction with the Taliban in her interviews and speeches at international conferences.
In the letter sent to the PRIO director by the Spontaneous Movement of Protesting Women in Afghanistan regarding the removal of Mahbooba Siraj’s name from the list of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize, it is stated that she has not only done nothing to ensure peace, women’s rights and their freedom from the rule of the Taliban but “until now, she has acted against protesting women in alignment with the atrocious and bloodthirsty regime of the Taliban,” adding: “Outside Afghanistan, she has been one of the lobbyists for the recognition of the repressive regime of the Taliban by the foreign countries.”
Talking to Nimrokh, a number of these protesting women also have considered “lobbying for the Taliban” to be one of the main reasons for their objection against Siraj’s nomination for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize.
“The Nobel Peace Prize should be given to someone who has done something for peace and tried to bring peace to Afghanistan,” said Zhulia Parsi, a protester, to Nimrokh, adding: “Mrs. Siraj is the one who has stood against the Afghan women and is lobbying for the Taliban… How should she be given the Nobel Peace Prize?”
“Mahbooba Siraj is one of those who has always lobbied for the Taliban,” said another Afghan female protester, who wishes to remain anonymous, to Nimrokh, adding: “she has always lobbied for the Taliban legitimization, and she has not done anything effective for the Afghan women regarding their freedom.”
She emphasized that it was not understandable for the Afghan protesting women that “based on what point of view” and according to what criteria the PRIO has decided to nominate Mrs. Siraj for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Afghan women do not have the right to education, the right to live and all their rights have been violated”, said Wahida Amiri, an Afghan female protester, to Nimrokh, “but a person, who has done nothing for these women, is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The Women’s Committee of the Junbish-e-Guzar in Afghanistan (Afghanistan Transition Movement) also sent a letter to the PRIO, objecting to Mahbooba Siraj’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and called it “a clear disparagement to the oppressed women of Afghanistan.”
In this letter, it is stated that Siraj, in her interviews in the last year and a half, has “justified” the inhumane policies of the Taliban and has tried to “purge” them.
This movement has demanded the PRIO reconsider Siraj’s nomination to receive the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, emphasizing that this nomination has been made without any research into her past and activities.