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© AFP file photo | Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country to have made a successful transition to democracy

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-10-09

The surprise decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to a group of Tunisian mediators has won plaudits in Tunisia and abroad, and offered the cradle of the Arab Spring symbolic support as it pursues its laborious transition to democracy.

The prize was awarded nearly five years after a desperate street vendor set himself alight in central Tunisia, touching off a wave of unrest that eventually toppled the country’s longtime ruler and inspired uprisings across the region.

While other countries – among them Libya, Syria, Egypt and Yemen – slipped into civil war or reverted to authoritarian rule, Tunisia has doggedly pursued the transition to democracy.

But it has been a rough ride for the Tunisian people, who still face political instability, economic woes, and a worsening terrorist threat.

The National Dialogue Quartet was established in 2013 when the process of democratisation was in danger of collapsing amid widespread social unrest and a spate of high-profile assassinations.

The dialogue nearly broke down several times, but its ultimate success stands in stark contrast to the coup in Egypt that removed the elected Islamist government there during the summer of 2013.

The Quartet has been credited with building bridges between Tunisia’s rising Islamist parties and its traditional secular politics, and preventing a slide into civil strife.

It helped foster a climate that led to the adoption of a constitution in January 2014 and nationwide democratic elections at the end of last year.

‘Beacon of hope’

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi said the award recognized the country’s "path of consensus", adding: "Tunisia has no other solution than dialogue despite ideological disagreements."

The powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), a member of the Quartet of mediators, described the prize as a "tribute to martyrs of a democratic Tunisia".

Another member, the UTICA trade confederation, said the Quartet aimed “to give hope to young people in Tunisia that if we believe in our country, we can succeed".

Douglas Herbert, FRANCE24's international affairs editor

Tributes poured in from around the world, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailing Tunisia as “an inspiration to the region and the world”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the award showed the Middle East and North Africa "the way out of the crises in the region: national unity and democracy".

France's President Francois Hollande said it "rewards the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said it made Tunisia a "beacon of hope" for the region.

In Germany, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel described the choice of the Tunisian mediators as "an excellent decision" and a "deserved reward for working on democracy, for sticking to the idea that a people that has shaken off dictatorship deserves something better than a new dictatorship."

Encouragement through adversity

The German chancellor was one of several high-profile candidates for the award, along with Pope Francis, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos with Farc rebel leader Rodrigo Londono.

Peace prize ‘a boost for Tunisia in gloomy times’

The little-known and awkwardly-named Tunisian Quartet had never featured in the bookies’ favourites.

In announcing its choice on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said the award was intended as an "encouragement to the Tunisian people" and as an inspiration for others, particularly in the turbulent Middle East.

It was a timely backing for the young democracy, coming a day after a prominent politician survived an assassination attempt in Sousse, the site of a deadly terrorist attack this summer in which 38 people were killed, most of them British tourists.

The Sousse killings and an earlier attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital, Tunis, have highlighted the country’s terrorist threat and dealt a stinging blow to its critical tourism industry.

The Tunisian Human Rights League, another Quartet member, said Friday’s award would encourage the mediators to take “a larger responsibility” in tackling such crises.

Its president, Abdessattar Ben Moussa, said the prize “shows that dialogue is an essential foundation to arrive at solutions to the most difficult problems."


Date created : 2015-10-09


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