Tunisia after the Nobel Peace Prize

Friday 16/10/2015

Prize has already given Tunisians a \'dose of optimism\'

TUNIS - For many Tunisians, the first reaction after learn­ing, on October 9th, that four of their fellow citizens were to receive the Nobel Peace Prize was disbelief. Two of the prize recipients, Tunisian Bar Association President Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh and Tunisian Hu­man Rights League President Ab­dessattar Ben Moussa, interviewed by The Arab Weekly, admitted to reacting the same way.
Past the element of surprise, they started to deal with their unexpect­ed vantage point. Even if Tunisia has gained a lot of world attention since the 2011 uprising, its current stature is unprecedented. It is today in the global spotlight. The views of its laureates are widely coveted. Ben Moussa disclosed that the prize recipients have been approached for advice by many, including Lib­ya’s new transitional government.
The newly gained attention is re­kindling national pride with Tuni­sians remembering that their coun­try, heir to ancient Carthage, is no stranger to glory. The prize was “in­tended for all of Tunisia, a country which may be small in geographic size but has a great history and deep-rooted civilisation”, Mahfoudh said.
Many are hoping that amid an economic slump and terrorist peril, the Nobel Peace Prize could be a game changer. Mahfoudh says the prize has already given Tunisians a “dose of optimism”. But beyond that, Ben Moussa wants both the government and civilian society “to seek dividends for the country from this prize”.
Many of these dividends depend on the West. The Tunisian story with the West is complicated.
It at times sounds like unrequited love. The country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, a staunchly pro- Western leader, even had day­dreams about Tunisia sliding across the sea towards Switzerland.
During the last few years Tuni­sians have been expecting more from the West than symbolic ges­tures and gap-fill loans. The Nobel Peace Prize has reinforced such expectations.
Ben Moussa says the West “is not doing enough” to assist Tunisia. It could, for instance, he says, do more to help the country bring back tourists and attract investors and provide more technical assistance for it to meet its security challenge.
While it intends to carry that message to the outside world, the National Dialogue Quartet is deter­mined to continue assuming its his­toric role at home. Ben Moussa said he expects the National Dialogue to remain “a force of suggestion” and “moral pressure” but not transform into an institution. “Civil society protects democracy and curtails the deviations of politicians,” he said.