Friday, October 9, 2015

In Tunisia, the Power of Civil Society

Interesting choice in Norway to award the Nobel Peace Prize to four organizations that have helped keep Tunisia's young democracy running:
The National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” . . .

The quartet comprises four organizations: the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. 
A brief history:
Days after the vendor died in January 2011, the protests forced the country’s longtime dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, into exile. The Islamist Ennahda Party won the most votes in parliamentary elections that October, but it fell short of an outright majority. In August 2012, thousands took to the streets of Tunis, the capital, to protest a proposal to, among other things, remove the full equality of women and men guaranteed in the 1956 Constitution — and undo a secular political tradition that the French left behind.

The four groups honored on Friday were vital in helping Tunisia negotiate its way through the most serious threat to its nascent transition: the crisis that followed the assassination of the opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013. The protests that came after threatened to undo the country’s democratically elected “troika” government, led by Ennahda Party.

The groups’ intervention helped pave the way for the troika government’s peaceful resignation, its replacement by a constituent assembly, the adoption of a new Constitution and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in October and November 2014.
Kaci Kullmann Five, chair of the Peace Prize committee, said,
An essential factor for the culmination of the revolution in Tunisia in peaceful democratic elections last autumn was the effort made by the quartet to support the work of the constituent assembly and to secure approval of the constitutional process among the Tunisian population at large. The quartet paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between the citizens, the political parties and the authorities, and helped to find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of the challenges across political and religious divides.
Which makes me think about what a society is, and how that relates to politics. Tunisia's relative success seems to have come because it has a mass of active citizens, from market sellers to lawyers to ministers in the government, who care about their country and want it to be a successful democracy. They want what many people around the world call a normal country, a place where people are free to get on with their lives and careers without fear of oppression or war, a place where human connections are not controlled by party or ethnic bloc. They have put the success of democracy above narrow interests of party, and as a result they have been able to reach the compromises necessary for democracy to succeed. In Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Libya, and elsewhere the spirit of compromise has been lacking, so movements toward democracy have failed.


Unknown said...

I think that "we want to be a normal country" slogan is very interesting. I remember hearing it also at the time of the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia. It seems to me the dream that society should have some higher purpose is one of the key ingredients in much social misery.

John said...

It was a powerful force in Eastern Europe in 1989, and I think this longing for normality was one of the key ingredients in the successful transitions to democracy in Poland and the Czech Republic at least.

G. Verloren said...

The same sort of sentiment is present in Burma, although we in the West don't often hear much about the struggles going on there.

They have a general election coming up very soon on November 8th, but it remains to be seen if the military regime will once again fix the vote in their favor.