Nobel Peace Prize throws curve with award to Tunisian Quartet

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which helped Tunisia peacefully transition from dictatorship to pluralist democracy, was completely off the radar of Nobel watchers.

Aimen Zine/AP/File
Members of the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly celebrate the adoption of the new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia, in January 2014. A Tunisian democracy group won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its contributions to the first and most successful 'Arab Spring' movement. The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet 'for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy' in the North African country following its 2011 revolution.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised many by giving this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, for building a pluralistic democracy in the wake of the country's Jasmine Revolution of 2011.

It marks the second time in four years the peace prize goes to an "Arab Spring"-related theme. In 2011, Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman shared the prize with Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee.

Speculators had placed higher hopes on the Colombian peace process with the FARC guerrillas; the Iran nuclear deal by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry; and possibly even the UN refugee organization UNHCR for its relief efforts in the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Francis were also tipped as hopefuls.

“It was equally difficult this year as always with 273 candidates,” Kaci Kullman Five told journalists in her debut as newly elected Committee chair. “Our goal is not to surprise. We never decide until our last meeting.”

The committee highlighted in its decision the ability of Tunisia's Islamist and secular political movements to work together, and the crucial role of civil society and institutions and organizations in the country’s democratization. The Quartet comprises four organizations: The Tunisian General Labor Union; Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts; Tunisian Human Rights League; and Tunisian Order of Lawyers. It was formed was formed two years ago amid a particularly rocky patch in the democratization process. 

“The Quartet paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between the citizens, the political parties and the authorities and helped to find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of challenges across political and religious divides,” said Kullman Five, adding that the committee hoped Tunisia’s example would inspire others in the Middle East, North Africa and the rest of the world.

“We are fully aware that there are many challenges,” Kullman Five told journalists. “No countries are alike, no structures are like, but we can give an inspiration to others.”

The so-called "Arab Spring" originated in Tunisia in 2010-11, toppled the dictatorship of President Ben Ali, and later spread to several countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia has fared better than most with the culmination of the revolution in peaceful democratic elections last autumn.

The Nobel Committee highlighted the key role the Quartet played in supporting the work of the constituent assembly and securing approval of the constitutional process among the Tunisian population.

“The situation in the Middle East and part of North Africa is characterized by great instability,” said Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, in a congratulatory statement. “This year’s announcement shows that broad dialogue together with civil society and support to moderate forces can increase the chances for success with democratization.”

The peace prize will be awarded to the Quartet, which is distinct from the four organizations within it. (Under Nobel Foundation rules, the prize cannot be shared among more than three winners.) The Committee has not decided yet who will come to accept the 8 million Swedish Krona ($1 million) prize at the award ceremony this December at Oslo City Hall.

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