Tunisia after the Nobel Peace Prize
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.