In 2013, two years after the Jasmine Revolution, and the birth of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, the country’s democratization process was falling apart. Between assassinations and political unrest in the streets, Tunisia was approaching the brink of civil war.
The Islamist party Ennahda and its allies had won elections, were filling the state machine with unqualified loyalists, and trying to force through a constitution that made Islam the state religion, imposing new limits on free expression and assembly. Opposition politicians walked out of parliament in protest, and there were clashes on the streets. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood government had been deposed in a coup and its supporters were being killed in Cairo.
Sometimes the most remarkable news is what didn’t happen. What didn’t happen in Tunisia was civil war or escalated violence.
The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), began to form an alliance that could turn the tide of the country. UGTT leader Houcine Abbassi convinced the union’s historic adversary, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), to join forces. The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, joined as well.
The quartet drew up a roadmap, designed to lead Tunisia away from conflict and towards political compromise. It called for the entire cabinet to resign and a non-partisan prime minister to take over, a new independent election commission to be set up, and the constitution to be amended to take into account opposition concerns.
Largely due to the economic weight and political recognition of the four groups, skilled negotiations and a refusal to back down, the Islamist Ennahda party were persuaded to sign the roadmap at a dramatic ceremony in October 2013. The country was on the road to a democratic, pluralist society.
The Nobel Committee stated that the Tunisian national dialogue quartet made a “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine revolution”.