Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet
In this article, we shall discuss the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. We will discuss the members of the National Dialogue Quartet, their work as it pertained to Tunisian democratization, and their relationship with various Tunisian government actors. We will also discuss their recent Nobel Peace Prize victory, and how their work may have been the primary reason that Tunisia continues to be a liberal democratic political system.
Who is the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet?
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is made of four actors within Tunisia’s civil society. The groups that make up the National Dialogue Quartet are the:
—–Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail)
—–The Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) (Union Tunisienne de l’Industrie, du Commerce et de l’Artisanat)
—–The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH, La Ligue Tunisienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme)
—–Tunisian Order of Lawyers (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie)
Each of these actors have had an important role in challenging authoritarian regimes, and in promoting democratization and human rights. For example, one of the most historic organizations in Tunisia is the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT). This labor union has had a long past of fighting for worker’s rights in the country. They have actively organized thousands against Habib Bourguiba, and then Ben Ali, and were critical in the civil society voice against the rights abuses of both of these leaders, whether it was Bourguiba in the 1980s, or Ben Ali in late 2010.
Conditions Prior to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet
The situation in Tunisa in 2013 had many problems and issues facing the country, particularly with regards to the functioning of the government. At the time, the Islamist party Ennahda was the primary party in government, along with two secular parties–Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic (CPR). There were already tensions following the Islamist victory in 2011, as the secularists were concerned about how Ennahda would govern. These fears only got worse in the following years, with these groups worried that some members of Ennahda wanted to push a strong Islamist agenda in the country. Furthermore, there were questions about Ennahda’s willingness to allow opposition voices and dissent in the country. To make matters much worse, two prominent secular leaders, Chokri Belaid (who was killed on February 6th, 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi (who was killed on July 25, 2013) were killed . As a result of what many viewed as security breakdowns, Tunisians took to the streets, protesting Ennahda and the government at the time (Ben Hamadi, 2015). In addition, “Opposition leaders suspended their activities and called for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Thousands of people protested daily in Bardo, outside the Assembly’s headquarters” (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
Ennahda itself was (at first) unwilling to secede power. There were concerns by Ennahda that what transpired in Egypt (namely, a military coup ousting the elected Muslim Brotherhood) could occur in Tunisia (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
Because of the developments, opposition groups were not open to speak with the Islamists unless they would resign, and technocrats would be put in place to run the country until new elections. Ennahda was not willing to agree to end the Constitutional Assembly (Ben Hamadi, 2015). Then, “On Aug. 6, 2013, Constituent Assembly President Mustapha Ben Jafar decided to suspend the work of the country’s highest institution in order to force the ruling parties and the opposition to engage in dialogue” (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
The UGTT, along with other groups, seeing this lack of dialogue, decided to take it upon themselves to bring the different political leaders together to talk about the direction of Tunisia; they wanted to save the country. Thus, “Faced with this stalemate, Houcine Abassi, the secretary general of the powerful UGTT union, initiated a marathon of negotiations with representatives of political parties, civil society organizations and foreign ambassadors” (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
Given the unwillingness for the two sides to come together, the different human rights, trade, judicial, and labor organizations came together to work with political leaders for a political settlement. Through the work of these organizations, beginning in September 2013, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet got both sides to talk to one another. And following months of hard work, they were able to get the different sides to agree to a framework for the future of Tunisia, and convinced Ennahda to give up power in late October 2015 (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
However, this was far from the end of the disagreements. In fact, Ben Hamadi (2015) argues that “the battle had only begun: disagreements on the contents of the constitution, the makeup of the electoral body and the future head of government meant the Quartet feared failure on many occasions.” However, in the following months, they put in place the technocratic government, set up elections in January of 2014, and wrote a new constitution (Ben Hamadi, 2015).
Thus, the Tunisian political roadmap was the critical plan that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet got the government parties to agree to. As UTICA (2015) explains, “The road map included several actions, starting with the commitment by President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh to solemnly announce that the Government led by the Islamists will resign and would be replaced within three weeks by an independent government (composed of technocrats) as decided by the National Dialogue.” And the Islamists under Ennahda did just that. They agreed to step down, thus handing power over to the technocratic government outlined in the National Dialogue Quartet Roadmap. Then, shortly after, Tunisian leaders agreed to a new constitution, and also agreed to new presidential elections (Alexander & Cho Walsgard, 2015).
The goals of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet were to reduce the tension and animosity that existed between the different sides. In addition, they understood the importance of a national unity, particularly in the early stages of the post-Ben Ali democratic movement that was continuing (UTICA, 2015). The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was instrumental in convincing the incumbent government at the time, the “troika” that they needed to step down, and that the government should be run by technocrats until new elections could be set up, and a new Tunisian constitution could be written (UTICA, 2015).
Following this, their next plan was to ensure that a new Tunisian Constitution was written, a goal that they achieved months after the technocrats took control of the state.
Then, they also worked to set up new elections, as well as an official monitoring body who would oversee the entire process (UTICA, 2015). UTICA (2015) viewed these roadmap goals as successful, saying that “This government insured stability, organized elections in October (parliamentary) and December (presidential) 2014, and insured a productive working environment for the economy until February 2015 when it handed over the reins of power to the democratically elected government of Tunisia. With a new voted constitution, a new elected President, a new elected parliament, a new built and approved government based on this new constitution and results of parliament elections, democratic institutions are now finally in place in Tunisia”.
In addition, another very important sign that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was doing something right was that civil society was responding positively. Not only were they commenting on how well the transition was going, but there was also a decrease in total protests during this time period (UTICA, 2015).
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, along with many other civil society actors (and also Tunisian government officials) understood that the economy was a top priority. They also recognized that this stalemate was going to harm any chance of economic growth, and also a democratic future. So, the National Dialogue Quartet aimed to not only right the ship politically, but also, through combination with goals such as Tunisia 2020, their hope has been to set up conditions that will lead to capital investment, additional tourism, many more jobs, along with other economic goals.
The Noble Peace Prize Committee understood the essential role that Quartet played in making sure the country continued to move towards democracy. Writing about the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee said that “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 challenges across political and religious divides. The broad-based national dialogue that the Quartet succeeded in establishing countered the spread of violence in Tunisia and its function is therefore comparable to that of the peace congresses to which Alfred Nobel refers in his will” (Nobel Peace Prize, 2015).
Here is the video of the 2015 Nobel Peace Ceremony:
We have also linked to the text of the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
The future of Tunisia may have looked quite different had it not been for the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. All of the groups within the National Dialogue Quartet were instrumental not only in challenging the authoritarian policies of Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, but also ensuring that Tunisia stayed the course of democracy when tensions arose between the Islamists and the secularists in government. In 2013, following a number of political assassinations in Tunisia, as well as questions about the governance of the country under the Islamist Party Ennahda, many of the secular challengers were unwilling to work with the Islamists, and called for them to leave office. There was also a concern over what the new Tunisian constitution would look like (Alexander & Cho Walsgard, 2015). Sensing an unwillingness for the two sides to work together, and worried that the tension would lead to a crumbling of the democratic institutions built following the 2010-2011 uprisings, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was formed.
Alexander, C. & Cho Walsgard, J. (2015). Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet Wins 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Bloomberg Business. 09.10.2015. Available Online: http://fride.org/download/09.10.2015_Bloomberg_US_KK.pdf
Ben Hamadi, M. (2015). This is Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet. The World Post. Huffington Post. 10/12/2015. Available Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/10/11/tunisia-national-dialogue_n_8275014.html
Nobel Peace Prize Committee (2015). The Nobel Peace Prize 2015 Press Release. Oslo, 10 October 2015. Available Online: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2015/press.html
UTICA (2015). Tunisia’s National Dialogue By UTICA. Presented at the Private-Public Dialogue 2015 Workshop, Copenhagen, March 10-13, 2015. Available Online: http://di.dk/SiteCollectionDocuments/DIBD/AE-Network/Working%20Group%20Meetings%202015/Network%20Meeting%20in%20Cairo/10.0%20UTICA%20Tunesia’s%20National%20Dialogue.pdf