The Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised everyone Friday and awarded the 2015 Peace Prize to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011″. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is an alliance of four Tunisian civil society groups: The National Dialogue Quartet — including the Tunisian General Labor Union (Houcine Abbassi, secretary general), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (Wided Bouchamaoui, president), the Tunisian Human Rights League (Abdessattar ben Moussa, president) and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers (Fadhel Mahfoudh, president).
The award should be read as a broader recognition of the role of civil society in Tunisia, during critical junctures in 2013 and 2014, after self-immolation of an unemployed street vendor, touching off a political earthquake that toppled Tunisia’s longtime authoritarian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and proceeded to reverberate throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Among the disappointments, the Arab Spring — collapsed states in Libya, Syria and Yemen; the return of rule by a military strongman in Egypt; and the rise of the Islamic State in the sectarian caldron of Syria and Iraq. The Quartet paved a vital bridge for dialogue and political compromises between the Islamists then in government and Tunisia’s opposition and secular movements and helped to find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of challenges across political and religious divides. The broad-based national dialogue that the Quartet succeeded in establishing countered the spread of violence, deep polarization and mistrust in Tunisia and its function is therefore comparable to that of the peace congresses to which Alfred Nobel refers in his will.
An essential factor for the culmination of the revolution in Tunisia in peaceful, democratic elections last autumn was the effort made by the Quartet to support the work of the constituent assembly and to secure approval of the constitutional process among the Tunisian population at large. Nonetheless, Tunisia’s fledgling democracy has weathered significant challenges already and is still the Arab world’s only full-fledged one. As the committee put it, Tunisia “shows that Islamist and secular political movements can work together to achieve significant results in the country’s best interests. It is lucky in that no single group in the country was strong enough to consider enforcing its own hegemony — the relative success of Tunisia’s transition to democracy has been a wisp of hope”
The Nobel Committee trying to draw the world’s attention to what the quartet represents, to hold it up as a model for the rest of the globe to follow. It’s meant as a counterpoint to the standard modes of political conflict resolution in the world: aggression, brinksmanship, intolerance, and a deepening of divisions rather than a bridging of them.
The Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony is held at Oslo City Hall on 10 December each year the anniversary of Nobel’s death. The Nobel laureate receives a diploma, a medal, and a document confirming the prize amount.