tunisia-nobel-peace-quartet

On October 9, 2015, the Nobel Prize Committee announced the Tunisian Quartet as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the associated award, the equivalent of 972 thousand US dollars. The Quartet will receive the prize in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on December 10, 2015.

What is the Norwegian Nobel Committee? What is the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet? What have they accomplished to deserve the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize? How did foreign media react to the announcement?

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine revolution”, as has been explained by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

We always hear about Nobel Prizes being awarded to people who have accomplished something significant in a given domain, but rarely are we curious to know about the people awarding it. One of the questions asked by many Tunisians who were not acquainted with the concept of the Nobel Peace Prize is Who are the people behind it?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is in charge of selecting Noble Peace Prize laureates. The committee is composed of five members appointed by the Norwegian Parliament and assisted by expert advisers according to Alfred Nobel’s will.

When announcing the prize winner, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote in its press release:

The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 when the democratization process was in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations and widespread social unrest. It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.

It was thus instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief.

Before going any further, it is necessary for the readers to know that the rest of this article will not represent my opinion as a Tunisian citizen as much as it will aim at examining how the outsiders (non-Tunisians) perceive the Tunisian Quartet.

Meet the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

The Tunisian Quartet comprises four organizations: The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the National Confederation of Tunisian Lawyers, and the Tunisian Human Rights League.

The Committee was established in the summer of 2013 when the process of transition to democracy in Tunisia was threatened by two political assassinations (Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi), social unrest and security threats.

The Islamist political party, Ennahdha, was accused of threatening the freedom that many Tunisians fought for during and after the revolution and was held accountable for the injudicious governance and political decisions made during its administration. The Constituent Assembly was thus hindered in finalizing the constitution.

The Tunisian Quartet aimed to convince Tunisian Islamist politicians and their opponents to be open to dialogue in order to find a common political ground that would help Tunisia overcome adversity and successfully cross the threshold towards a transitional phase built upon clear political rules.

In spite of the challenging mission, the Quartet succeeded in persuading 21 different political parties to participate in a national dialogue that would draw a roadmap identifying the future of political plans in Tunisia. An Independent High Authority for Elections was formed on April 18, 2011, and was developed to monitor elections. A new constitution was adopted in January 26, 2014. A new electoral law was drafted and a consensus made about the need for a new government led by an independent individual.

There is no doubt that Tunisia represents the success story of the Arab Spring. Tunisia was the first Arabic-speaking country to adopt a constitution in 1861. It was the first MENA country to lead a series of rebellions against Big Brother. It was the sole MENA country to not fall into the trap of civil war. It was the sole MENA country where politicians prioritized the greater good of the people over their own interests by cooperating with the Quartet and coordinating with different stakeholders to avoid the crises lurking behind every corner.

Tunisia is not only the success story of the MENA region but also the success story of the whole world. Wait for it—I am neither attempting to sound poetic nor to make this statement for metaphorical effect. Back in 2002, the United States of America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations attempted to form a Middle East Quartet which aimed at promoting for a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. The Quartet failed to accomplish its mission. The reasons behind this failure are numerous. The contexts might be too different for one to make such a comparison, but still, the Middle East Quartet failures help to highlight the strengths of the Tunisian Quartet which revolve around the members’ moral authority and political credibility.

Media Reaction

The majority of foreign media outlets were not acquainted with the accomplishments of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. Some of them tried to provide their audiences with as many details about the Quartet as possible and posed the question of whether or not this Quartet deserved the prize. Others displayed a negative attitude towards the announcement.

In one of its articles about the Noble Peace Prize, The New Yorker used words and expressions that belittled the Quartet’s accomplishments: “four little-known groups“, “a little North African country of only eleven million people“, “a sliver of a country“, “any semblance of order“, “it’s still only a semblance“.

The New York Times said in its editorial about the prize that “there is no guarantee that Tunisia, which is not free of political and social strife, will live up to the promise of this year’s award”.

Another media outlet, Bloomberg View, talked about Ghannouchi from a rather different angle than that taken by most media. Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, stated in his article that “Ghannouchi has been criticized by hard-line Salafists who think he sold out Islam, and many secularists continue to think he’s secretly a hard-liner himself“. He added that “he may never win the Nobel himself. But without him, Tunisia couldn’t have won it either“.

Even though a few foreign media outlets, intentionally or unintentionally, minimized the worthiness of the Tunisian Quartet of this prize, the above-mentioned facts cannot be disregarded, and the committee responsible cannot be questioned.

Edited on October 18, 2015, at 13:33.