Tunisia’s success story: How dialogue and democracy won the Nobel Peace Prize

Mohamed Mahdi Mejri is a Programme Officer at the Center for The study of Islam and Democracy, and has worked towards the efforts of the democratic transition in Tunisia. 

Tunisia, the impetus of the Arab Spring, was the only country to emerge from it with a democracy marked by increased freedoms and regular elections. But a pair of devastating terrorist attacks that killed nearly 60 foreign tourists triggered a state of emergency, and police have been arresting hundreds in sweeps of arrests. These events are prompting many activists to fear a return to the days of repression under late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia’s fledgling democracy has been cited as the hope for a region in which the democratic promises of the Arab Spring have largely collapsed into chaos - as in Libya - or brought in harsher new regimes as in Egypt. But Tunisia’s freedoms may be buckling as the country clamps down in order to deal with terror attacks threatening an economy already teetering on the edge of insolvency.

The general atmosphere was very intense and all the national and international actors were very worried about the failure of the Jasmin Revolution. The civil society has played a very important role in establishing the culture of peace and social peace through different programs.

One of these institutions which worked intensively with was the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), for which I am a Programme Officer.

Since 1999, CSID has developed one of the strongest track records of organizing, facilitating, and sustaining dialogue between Islamists, secularists, and other political forces across the MENA region. In Tunisia, this included over 100 conferences and seminars to facilitate national dialogue, including 24 closed workshops for about 30 key decision-makers and stakeholders. This led directly to Tunisia’s 2012-14 political achievements and to the adoption of the new constitution by 200 (out of 216) members of the assembly. This was based on a project successfully embedded in the imperatives of consensus and dialogue as alternatives to divisive, zero-sum politics.

As a result of these efforts on behalf of civil society, Tunisia is witnessing a significant transitional phase that dictates the mobilisation of all efforts for the sake of contributing to the success of the Democratic Transition in our state. We have become a beacon of light and a role model for the Arab region as well as the whole world because The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 is to be awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.

The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 when the democratisation process was in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations and widespread social unrest. It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war. It was this that was instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief.

We, the Tunisian civil society activists, consider our responsibility as becoming more pronounced after the Nobel Prize in Peace was awarded to one of our very own. But we are committed to finishing the writing of our success story and we will fight any attempts of pulling us back. We have strong beliefs that violence brings more violence and only by dialogue we solve our problems.

Tunisia is on the right path and we hope our dream of sustained democracy becomes a reality.