Why did the Tunisian dialogue quartet win the Nobel peace prize?
As the Tunisian dialogue quartet was awarded the Nobel peace prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee hailed the Tunisian quartet's essential role in advancing peaceful democratic developments. The Tunisian dialogue quartet saved the country from tremendous political unrest ensuring the emergence of a pluralistic democracy and a constitutional system of government. The four organizations hold great moral authority in the Tunisian society and were in a unique position to act as a mediator.
The quartet showed the world that Islamist and secular political movements can work together with the best interest of the country in mind, said the Nobel Committee. Yet, the notion of a national dialogue between Islamist and secular forces was not unprecedented. In 2005, a cross-ideological cooperation between political parties and movements of the secular position and the Islamist party, called the October 18 Collectif, was formed. This cooperation managed “a national dialogue” with the Islamist party, Ennahdha, the centre-left secular party, CPR, and the secular liberal party, PDP, at the forefront. During the transitional phase after 2011, the two former formed the Troika government together with the social democratic party, Ettakatol. The example of the transitional process in Tunisia underscores the value of dialogue in Tunisian politics, but the so-called "Tunisian model of dialogue" is not a new invention. Even though the quartet acted as mediators of this process, they were not necessarily the architects behind it.
The struggle for democracy and fundamental rights stagnated and suffered setbacks in many countries that attempted the same endeavour as Tunisia after the Arab Spring. A significant backdrop of the transition process in 2013 was the political unrest and "failed revolutions" elsewhere in the region. The hopes and intentions of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is that this year’s prize will be an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy. The award should be viewed as a regional inspiration and a national motivation, but also as a salute to a vibrant civil society.
The peace prize is perceived as a prize to the Tunisian people in general, who, as the Committee writes, "despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity". And while the efforts of the Tunisian people should not be undermined, the assumed link between the popular forces taking to the streets in all parts of Tunisia and the elitist transition process in the capital Tunis, deserves further scrutiny. The rounds of national dialogue might not have been all that "national", as it was politicians and elites who took part in the process. The smaller, young civil society groups formed in the regions during the uprisings were not included. The greater part of the population, those not organized in politics or civil society organizations, felt detached from the political elites in Tunis and soon became disillusioned with the "revolution". This can explain why the election participation was lower in 2014 than in 2011.
The Tunisian democratic transition is not over. It is a process well on its way, but with the need to stay "on track". The Tunisian people need to feel a moral ownership to the political transition and the new political order in Tunisia. To achieve this, people must regain their sense of participation and significance in the process. If this happens, the Nobel peace prize can make an actual contribution to safeguard democracy in Tunisia.
Lisa-Marie Måseidvåg Selvik, CMI Master's student currently doing fieldwork in Tunis