On Oct 9, the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, not to top contender German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but to the relatively little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. Merkel was a popular candidate because of the goodwill, courage and self-confidence she displayed to receive an unprecedented number of Middle East refugees. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the prize “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia” as it “established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.”
Actually, Chancellor Merkel and the Quartet are facing the same challenge: the mess and aftereffects of the Arab Spring. The former is confronted with a seemingly endless inflow of Middle East refugees fleeing from war into Germany and rest of Europe. The latter is confronted with reconstruction of national order after the collapse of an authoritarian regime, addressing the root cause of the refugee flow.
Ahead of its North African peers Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, Tunisia had the Jasmine Revolution in early 2011, knocking over the first domino of the Arab Spring. The country also experienced political assassinations, bloody social turmoil and the religionization of politics after Islamic parties took power. Fortunately, however, Tunisia has become the only country in the region that has generally moved out of chaos and realized overall stability thanks to strong and influential civil-society organizations. The Quartet is composed of four such organizations: the Tunisian General Labour Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. In this connection, the Quartet is indeed the right selection.
While some Western media have inferred that by selecting the Quartet the Norwegian Nobel Committee made the case for and supported the Arab Spring, this author finds the award to be more an honorable mention to encourage and appreciate efforts to mitigate and resolve differences for social stability and development through peaceful dialogue rather than use of force or confrontation. The prize announcement contains no affirmative statement with regard to the Arab Spring, which in the past four years has led to disorder, turmoil, refugee flows and even civil wars — and already turned to an Arab winter. In North Africa, Libya is still in chaos, where local warlords fight each other and national institutions are yet to be established. Some people rightly point out that as a result of the revolution, in the past four years the country has been set back decades. The absence of unified national institutions and effective border control has made Libya the bridgehead for African refugees on their way to Europe. Egypt, on the other hand, experienced a roller-coaster of reverses, bloody protests and suppressions. Such developments as Mubarak getting out prison and the first democratically elected president, Morsi, being sentenced to death caused huge controversy internationally, with some believing “counterrevolution is at its peak” and “the revolution of the Arab Spring is dead”. In the Middle East, the civil war in Syria has lasted for four years and the number of refugees fleeing the civil war has exceeded those from Afghanistan, making the country world’s largest source of refugees. The civil war in Yemen has displaced over 1.5 million people. Saudi Arabia’s air strikes against the Houthi rebels have embedded the Yemeni civil war in the fight for hegemony between regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the sectarian dispute between the Sunnite and Shiah.
What is more heartrending is that international terrorist forces such as al-Qaeda and IS have used the turbulence in North Africa and the Middle East to rapidly mass and expand, quickly becoming troublemakers in the security and political transformation of the region. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Somali Youth Party, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and IS are all expanding their organizations and areas of control. Some local extremist organizations, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Egypt’s Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, have sworn allegiance to IS leader al-Baghdadi and joined his “caliphate”. Even in Tunisia, more and more young people, stirred by unemployment and poverty, have joined IS or al-Qaeda, threatening national security and stability. Within the past year, two terror attacks targeting foreign tourists occurred in the country, dealing a heavy blow to the slowly recovering tourism industry.
Though beset with thorns and challenges, in North Africa and Middle East, Tunisia remains the most successful country in political transition. In the map of disorder and chaos, its overall political stability and smooth transition is like a rose among thorns. Abdessattar Ben Moussa, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League, one of the four organizations that formed the Quartet, said that “Tunisia has resolved differences through dialogue rather than weapons” and that “the Nobel Committee has awarded ‘dialogue’, which is the value of the Tunisian experience”. Dialogue instead of confrontation and engaging in negotiation instead of opening fire: This is not only the necessary path out of the Arab Winter but also the point made by the Nobel Committee with this year’s Peace Prize.