(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet, winners of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, hailed the award yesterday as both a surprise and a testament to the country's transition to democracy.
The head of a labour union within the quartet called it a "tribute to martyrs" of the North African nation's democratic process.
"This effort by our youth has allowed the country to turn the page on dictatorship," said Houcine Abassi, secretary general of the UGTT, part of the National Dialogue Quartet that was recognised for building democracy after the 2011 revolution.
He also hailed the willingness of political parties "to be at the negotiating table to find solutions to political crises".
The quartet also includes the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
Fadhel Mahfoudh, head of the lawyers' group, called the prize a reward for "the process undertaken by the Tunisian people, who dreamed of democracy and human rights".
He said it "injects new life into the democratic transition" in the country.
Human Rights League chief Abdessattar Ben Moussa called the Nobel a "beautiful surprise" for the country as a whole.
"It is a source of pride for Tunisia, which has proven that dialogue saves a country from crisis, not weapons," he said.
The president of the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), Wided Bouchamaoui, also spoke of "great pride" for the Tunisian people.
"Today we are born again," she told Mosaique FM radio.
Beji Caid Essebsi, elected president in late 2014, welcomed an award he called "deserved", saying it endorsed the "path of consensus" chosen by his country.
"Tunisia has no other solution than dialogue despite ideological disagreements," the 88-year-old said in a video posted on the presidency's Facebook page.
"We cannot win the war we are fighting against terrorism unless we are all in it together," Essebsi said.
Tunisia's nascent democracy currently faces serious security threats, including from the Islamic state group, which claimed two attacks this year that killed 59 foreign tourists.
"We must all be united, excluding no one," insisted Essebsi, who the presidency said wrote to the Nobel Committee in January to support the Quartet's candidacy for the annual prize.
In 2013, two years after the overthrow of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali lit the fuse of the Arab Spring, the murder of two left-wing opposition politicians plunged the country into deep crisis.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand the fall of the coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, winner of Tunisia's first democratic elections in October 2011.
The UGTT was widely recognised in political circles as having helped prevent a polarisation of society between Islamists and anti-Islamists, preventing the kind of chaos that later erupted in other Arab Spring states.
"I hope this tribute is a stimulus for the entire Arab people, especially for countries living in danger and war," the UGTT's Abassi said.
On the street, the prize was both welcomed and derided.
It "sends a positive image to a people that is suffering and struggling to get up after being hit by several disasters", said car hire owner Sabri Berrich in central Tunis.
Optician Naima Oueslati agreed.
"At least some good news after a lot of bad! This means we have to show the world we can live up to this award," she said.
Student Jaber Majeri, 22, was dismissive.
"Will it change anything? Will this prize end poverty and unemployment and feed people?" he asked.
Watch shop manageress Safia Shabani agreed.
"We're waiting for concrete change so we can believe in our future, not a prize that adds nothing for Tunisians!"
A boost for morale amid economic woes, violence
Rachida was on her way to work when she heard that this year's Nobel Peace Prize had gone to Tunisia.
"This is good for our morale," is how she described her first reaction. "We have suffered a lot these past few years."
During the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, the Tunisians had enjoyed a reputation of being well-educated, open-minded, and very close to Europe in their mentality. "With the economic crisis and the threats of terrorism, we are now behind where we once were," Rachida says.
It was Tunisian pragmatism, above all, that was recognised with yesterday's award of the world's most prestigious peace prize.
The Norwegian Nobel committee chose the "National Dialogue Quartet" - comprised of the country's trade union confederation, business representatives, lawyers' association and a human rights group - that had helped prevent Tunisia from sliding into civil war.
In 2013 the powerful groupings got together after the murders of opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi - killings attributed to Islamist extremists - triggered a serious political crisis.
Many Tunisians at the time blamed the new Islamist government led by the Ennahda movement, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets.
Two years after the Jasmine Revolution toppled long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country was threatened by division and new violence.
But 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 Bar Association sprang into action, bringing the political opponents together to the negotiating table.
The Ennahda Party announced its withdrawal from the government, which was succeeded by a cabinet of technocrats led by Mehdi Jomaa.
"More than anything else 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," said the Nobel Prize committee in announcing the award.
While other countries of the Arab Spring such as Syria, Libya and Yemen have slid into civil war, the Tunisians despite a number of setbacks have proceeded further on the path of democracy.
And in contrast to Egypt, where fears of instability have brought a new authoritarian and repressive system to power, the North African country of 11mn people has a new, modern constitution.
Well-organised parliamentary and presidential elections have brought the secularist Nidaa Tounes party to the head of government. In order to preserve the social peace, Ennahda too has taken a seat in the new cabinet.
Despite the successes shown by the democratisation process, the country remains in a depressed state. The economy can't get started, unemployment especially among the young is high, and terrorist attacks that claimed some 60 lives earlier this year at the capital's Bardo Museum and the holiday resort of Sousse have crippled the tourist industry.
"We are living in difficult times. But despite the misunderstandings and disputes there is still some good news," commented President Beji Caid Essibsi about the Nobel announcement. "Not everything is black."