Tunisian civil society group bags Nobel Peace Prize

A Tunisian boy waving a flag as he runs during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the Tunisian revolution in Tunis, in this on Dec 17, 2013, file photograph.
A Tunisian boy waving a flag as he runs during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the Tunisian revolution in Tunis, in this on Dec 17, 2013, file photograph.PHOTO: REUTERS

OSLO • A Tunisian civil society group has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for helping to create the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring, at a time when the country is under threat of violence from extremists.

Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet was given the award "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011", the Nobel Committee said yesterday.

The quartet is made up of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

Formed in the summer of 2013, it helped support the democratisation process in Tunisia when it was in danger of collapsing, said the committee.

"It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war," said Ms Kaci Kullman Five, head of the committee.

"More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries."

Tunisia's political transition involved the adoption of a Constitution in January last year and the holding of its first democratic elections at the end of the year. But its fledgling democracy remains fragile.

A spate of extremist attacks this year included a massacre at a Tunis museum in March that killed 22 people, mostly tourists. In June, a mass killing at a beach resort left 38 foreigners dead. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The head of the UGTT labour union within the quartet called the award a "tribute to martyrs" of the country's democracy.

"This effort by our youth has allowed the country to turn the page on dictatorship," said Mr Houcine Abassi, secretary-general of the UGTT. He also praised the willingness of political parties "to be at the negotiating table to find solutions to political crises".

It is the second time a Nobel peace honour has been awarded in connection with the Arab Spring. Ms Tawakkol Karman, an activist fighting Yemen's regime, shared the 2011 prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee for their struggle for women's rights and empowerment.

Last year, Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 at the time, became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in an award shared with India's Kailash Satyarthi for their struggle against the suppression of children and their right to education

In Geneva, the United Nations chief spokesman in Geneva, Mr Ahmad Fawzi, hailed this year's award at a news briefing.

"We need civilian society to help us move peace processes forward. This a brilliant example," he said. "I think Tunisia is one of the Arab countries that have done best since the so-called Arab Spring and the upheavals in that part of the world."

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said the award was "hugely deserved", noting that the European Union "shares the pride of all Tunisians".

Since Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, the EU has stepped up support to the North African nation, giving aid and political backing and initiating trade talks.

The EU's top officials also visited Tunis earlier this year to back the fight against the growing militant threat after the Tunis museum attack. European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted: "Congrats to National Dialogue Quartet for Nobel Prize. After visit to Tunisia in March, I understand and respect (the) choice."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Tunisian civil society group bags Nobel Peace Prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe