Tunisian civil society Quartet deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Friday 16/10/2015

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to members of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which in 2013 facilitated negotiations among Tunisian political protago­nists towards advancing the democratic transition.
Members of the Quartet, who will be presented the awards in Oslo on December 10th, include Houcine Abbassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT); Wided Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA); Abdessattar Ben Moussa, head of the Tunisian Human Rights League; and Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, head of the Tunisian Bar Association.
The Tunisian laureates are not the first Arab personalities to receive the Nobel Prize for peace. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat received the Nobel Prize in 1978 jointly with Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin. Sixteen years later, another joint Arab-Israeli group was honoured: PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. In 2005, the prize was bestowed upon Egypt’s Mohamed ElBara­dei in his capacity as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And in 2011, Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman received the award jointly with two Liberian women.
The Tunisian Quartet deserves the prize for its role in sparing Tunisia a civil war of the type that is still ravaging Syria and Yemen. But, as members of the Quartet themselves acknowledge, the majority of Tunisia’s political class and civil society also deserve credit for their support of the national consensus that generated the road map paving the way for free and fair elections in 2014. A year later, state institutions are functioning in a peaceful and orderly manner.
Still, Tunisia has yet to meet the challenges confronting it since the 2011 uprising. First and foremost is the terrorist threat that continues to jeopardise the country’s security and inhibit its economy. The latest incident was October 12th when two soldiers were killed in the Sam­mama mountains. Tourism has yet to recover from the murder of scores of foreign tourists at the Bardo National Museum and on the seashore at Sousse.
The Peace Prize is a major morale booster to Tunisians. Most opinion polls show a high level of public scepticism about the political class, which has yet to steer away from divisiveness and pursue a common agenda that focuses on the country’s critical priorities.
Tunisia’s honour was billed by the Nobel Peace Prize committee and world powers as “a message” to the Arab world.
With its endless procession of tragedies, the Arab world is more than ever in need for an end to its bloody wars. But it is overly simplistic to think that Tunisia’s approach can be duplicated elsewhere in the region, where the particular conditions that allowed a peaceful transi­tion in Tunisia are not necessarily present.
There can be no peace in the Middle East without a fair settlement of the Palestinian issue. After two joint Arab-Israeli Nobel prizes, Palestin­ians are still deprived of their national rights. No negotiating schemes will make sense as long as that basic issue is not addressed.
Also and beyond noble statements, the region will not stand a chance at sorting out its problems if regional powers do not put an end to their expansionist designs.
The West should also pursue a more consistent approach regarding the settlement of conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East. Many of the region’s problems have been exacerbated by the West’s use of military power instead of negotiation and diplomacy. Unfortunately, many of the repercussions of that approach cannot be undone.