As many of you may have heard, this morning the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The Quartet is a conglomerate of of four major organizations in Tunisia--the General Labor Union, which is an umbrella group for all Tunisian workers which was formed during French colonial rule and has played a significant role in society since the fight for independence, the Entrepreneurs' Union, which pulls together the creative spirit of Tunisians and contributes significantly to economic growth in Tunisia, the Bar Association of Tunisia, representing legal scholars and practitioners, and the Tunisian League of Human Rights, which gained momentum after the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, a movement based on the restoration of the dignity of the Tunisian people.
In 2011, the Jasmine Revolution kicked off the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Rather than just demanding a governmental turnover, Tunisians included in their protests a request to create a new constitution and to completely reevaluate the methods of governance. As such, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was elected in October of 2011, assigned with the duty of writing a new constitution. Efforts reached a stalemate, and by May of 2013 Tunisia appeared to be moving toward a civil war based on sectarian and partisan lines. Politicians were assassinated; theaters and art exhibits were attacked; and Sufi shrines, bars, and brothels were destroyed by extremists. In a response to this growing crisis, between May and July of 2013 the Quartet formed a "National Dialogue Conference" in which all members of the NCA were brought together to discuss a "road map for democratic transition." The conference broke apart for a few months but was renewed in October with the full participation of all political parties. By January of 2014, the final draft of the Tunisian Constitution had been approved. Without the Quartet's leadership and insistence in holding the NCA accountable, partisan differences within would likely have caused the collapse of all constitution-writing efforts.
Not only did the Quartet hold the NCA together, it encouraged the members to work together to create solutions and compromises.This is why the Tunisian constitution, and one reason why Tunisian democracy, has so far been successful. It truly combines the interests of all of the Tunisian people, because they were all represented significantly in the creation of the constitution. Not only did all political parties have the ability to participate wholly within the creation of the constitution, but all of the organizations in the Quartet were also able to ensure the representation of their members to create a holistic, functional constitution up to international standards for democracy.
As a Tunisian friend of mine told me today, "[The Quartet] was the only thing that saved us from becoming like Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria."
I cannot think of a more worthy association to receive such an esteemed award. Tunisia is certainly not without its share of governmental and societal problems, but without the Quartet, Tunisia would surely not be the well-functioning state that it is.
P.S. Want to hear our program director talk on NPR about the prize and Tunisian society? Listen onwards!