Tunisian president, people welcome Nobel win for mediator group

The Tunisian president says the Nobel committee has honoured the country’s National Dialogue Quartet and its work, after the group won the Nobel Peace Prize.

TUNIS, TUNISIA (REUTERS) – Tunisia welcomed the announcement that the National Dialogue Quartet, who helped build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday (October 9).

The quartet of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers was formed in the summer of 2013.

It helped support the democratisation process when it was in danger of collapsing, the Norwegian Nobel committee said in its citation.

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi said that the prize was no “ordinary matter” and recognised and honoured all the organisations represented in the Quartet.

“It is also recognising the decision to choose the path of consensus that we have been walking along, which is the solutions based on dialogue,” Essebsi said. “And Tunis has no other option except dialogue despite the disagreements and conflicts and the ideological and non-ideological loyalties, and sectarian and non-sectarian ideologies. We have to acknowledge this path.”

The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($972,000), will be presented in Oslo on December 10.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the quartet for providing an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.

Workers and shoppers at La Marsa souk in Tunis spoke of their pride following the announcement.

“It’s huge pride for all Tunisians and as a Tunisian I feel very proud. The Quartet represents the whole country,” said Tunis resident Nabil Hamzaoui.

After an uprising that led to the ousting of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and inspired the “Arab Spring” protests, Tunisia now has a new constitution, free elections and a coalition government with secular and Islamist parties.

The country has been held up as a model of how to make the transition to a democracy from dictatorship.

“We have deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for a long time. Actually, since the beginning of the revolution. We are peaceful people and we love each other. We had some problems of course but I think that these last two years things are going in the right direction, even if we are facing challenges with political assassinations and other problems,” said souk worker Abdelhak.

In 2013, Tunisia appeared to be sliding into a political crisis that would end its transition, with secular opponents demanding that an Islamist-led government step down.

Angered by the assassinations of two of its leaders and emboldened by Egypt’s army-backed ousting of an Islamist president, Tunisia’s opposition held protests against the ruling Islamist Ennahda party. The government had agreed it would step down but wanted more guarantees of a fair handover.

The UGTT with other civil society partners negotiated between the two sides, helping form a caretaker government to hold power until new elections were held.

The crisis ended, and last year Tunisia held successful legislative and presidential elections to complete its transition.

“Thank God, we had these four organisations that looked after the national dialogue. I hope we’ll go further for the better for our country Tunisia,” said another souk worker, Hamadi Ben Brahim.

The Nobel Committee’s choice came as a surprise. The quartet had not been mentioned in any of the speculation in the run-up to the announcement, which instead focused on Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and anti-nuclear weapon campaigners.