German chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Francis were tipped to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize — Ms Merkel after all opened Germany’s gates to welcome Syrian refugees and the Pope went the extra mile on his Popemobile to spread the message on climate change.
But the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for “its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution”.
That not many had heard of this group was evident in a poll conducted on the official website of the Nobel Prize. Thirty minutes after the winners were announced, more than 88% answered ‘No’ to the question — Did you know about the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet and their work for democracy in Tunisia?
The committee had in the past taken everyone by surprise in its choice of winners. While some like Kailash Satyarthi-Malala Yousafzai (2014) and The European Union (2012) were unexpected, some like Barack Obama (2009) and Henry Kissinger (1973) raised many eyebrows.
The choice of this year’s winner, however, is not only a measure of the work of the Tunisian quartet but also a reflection of how the committee focuses on individuals and groups that work towards achieving world peace.
The four organisations that make up the quartet are: The Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
Formed in 2013, this group represents different sections of Tunisian society and has played a crucial role in preventing the collapse of the democratisation process after the Arab Spring. The committee recognised the quartet’s role as a “mediator and driving force to advance peaceful democratic development in Tunisia”.
The choice of the Tunisian quartet is a message to other countries, especially in the region, that the best way out of a crisis is to focus on national unity and uphold democracy. Many nations in West Asia and North Africa are in turmoil and struggling for stability after the Arab Spring.
The Nobel committee is sending a message that just as in Tunisia it is possible for religious and secular movements to work together for the country’s best interests, and social institutions can play a vital role in democratising a nation.
Tunisia has a long way to go and faces many challenges — a fact that the committee acknowledges, but the award is expected to encourage the Tunisians and others to strive towards sustainable peace that comes with the strengthening of democratic institutions.