Thursday, 19 September 2019 11:11 GMT

Nobel winners helped bring democracy to Arab Spring cradle

(MENAFN - The Peninsula)

Tunis: The Tunisian mediators who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize are credited with saving the democratic transition in the birthplace of the Arab Spring when it was deep in crisis.

Thanks to the work of the National Dialogue Quartet the North African nation last year adopted a new constitution and democratically elected a president Beji Caid Essebsi for the first time.

The award is a "tribute to martyrs of a democratic Tunisia" said the head of the UGTT union part of the quartet which has not been active since the start of this year.

"This effort by our youth has allowed the country to turn the page on dictatorship" said Houcine Abassi secretary general of the UGTT.

The quartet also includes the Tunisian Confederation of Industry Trade and Handicrafts the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

Two years ago amid the tumult unleashed by revolutions in the region Tunisia's future was looking bleak.

The country was politically paralysed threatening the entire democratic process triggered by the overthrow in January 2011 of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The killings of two opposition lawmakers Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013 shocked the nation.

The Islamist Ennahda party winner of the first post-revolution parliamentary elections in October 2011 was beset by divisions and its critics were boycotting the work of the new constituent assembly and organising mass demonstrations.

The UGTT helped to put the troubled process back on track by bringing the different sides to the table.

The union was founded in 1946 by Farhat Hached the nationalist leader who was assassinated in 1952 four years before Tunisia's independence.

With a membership of about half a million and a network of operations across the country it is capable of organising large protests and strikes in response to social grievances.

It has a history of involvement in politics even joining the ranks of the government after independence in 1956 before falling out with Tunisia's first president Habib Bourguiba.

Under Ben Ali the UGTT was the country's only union and the only national political force other than the former leader's own ruling party.

Its efforts are widely recognised among Tunisia's political class for having helped prevent a polarisation of society between Islamists and anti-Islamists and avoid the kind of chaos seen in other states shaken by Arab Spring uprisings.

In October 2014 the secular Nidaa Tounes party led by Essebsi came top in legislative polls conceded by Ennahda and in December Essebsi won Tunisia's first free presidential election.

But Tunisia today still faces major challenges notably jihadist violence that saw 21 tourists and a policeman killed in March at the Bardo museum in Tunis and 38 foreign tourists shot dead at a beach resort in June.

World leaders and international organisations hailed Tunisia's national dialogue mediators as a beacon of hope for the region after they won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping guide the country's transition to democracy.

-- Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said the award recognises the "path of consensus" chosen by the country after the 2011 revolution. "Tunisia has no other solution than dialogue despite ideological disagreements."

-- Houcine Abassi the head of the UGTT trade union which is a part of the winning Quartet said the prize is a "tribute to martyrs of a democratic Tunisia... This effort by our youth has allowed the country to turn the page on dictatorship."

-- Salil Shetty Amnesty International's Secretary General said the award was a "signal of hope" and "a fitting tribute to its members' work in strengthening civil society and human rights in a society still struggling with the legacy of decades of repression and abuse" the laureates having "held firm in speaking out for human rights and the rule of law."

-- International NGO Crisis Group said the choice was "an apt recognition of (the mediators') achievement in allowing the spirit of inclusion and compromise to triumph over the polarisation and violence that has been all too prevalent in the region and of the central role civil society can play at moments of crisis."

-- British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that the mediators deserved the prize for "helping make Tunisia a beacon of hope for the region".

-- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said: "It is a deserved reward for work for democracy for holding to the idea that people who have rejected a dictatorship deserve better than another dictatorship."

-- French President Francois Hollande said the prize "rewards the success of the democratic transition in Tunisia".

-- Lech Walesa Poland's 1983 winner for his Solidarity union's peaceful struggle against communism called the choice "a wise choice" which would help the region "to move forward."

-- Finland's former president Martti Ahtisaari who won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize said it was "an excellent decision... We all know how the Arab spring started and what the aim of it was. In the countries where the change was demanded people wanted to make it clear that they want to have the same values that are in place in democratic societies in the world."

-- UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova described the award as "a call to support all civil society forces engaged in the fight for democracy pluralism and rule of law. A few months after the attack on the Bardo Museum a place of knowledge and dialogue among cultures this message has never been more topical" she said referring to the March attack in Tunis in which two jihadists shot dead 21 foreign tourists and a policeman.

-- EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted that the prize "shows the way out of the crises in the region: national unity and democracy."

-- EU President Donald Tusk tweeted: "Congrats to National Dialogue Quartet for Nobel Prize. After visit to Tunisia on March I understand and respect (the) choice."

-- European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem who will visit Tunisia on Tuesday to initiate talks on a free-trade area told AFP the Nobel was "well deserved... The Tunisian road to democracy has been a source of inspiration and hope for all of us."

-- UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said: "I congratulate the Tunisian national dialogue quartet... We need civil society to help us to move peace processes forward."

-- Ahmed Samih general director of Cairo-based Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies said the award is "a recognition from the world that NGOs and labour syndicates in Tunisia rescued the country from a political fighting between the civil and Islamic forces."


Nobel winners helped bring democracy to Arab Spring cradle

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