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Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet (Arabic: الرباعي التونسي للحوار الوطني, French: Quartet du dialogue national) is a group of four organizations that were central in the attempts to build a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.
- 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)
- The Tunisian Order of Lawyers (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie)
Background to formation
Following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid in mid-December 2010, Tunisia had become the first Arab state beset by proliferating protest movements. The movement was far from homogenous and was initially catalyzed by rural middle-class workers in the region of Sidi Bouzid, from where Bouazizi hailed. However, it was never immediately obvious that Tunisian unions would bolster protest efforts. According to the 2011 Arab Barometer Survey, only 3 percent of the sample claimed union participation in contrast to Egypt, which had 10 percent of the protesting population holding union affiliation. UGTT, responding to perceived failure in responding to the 2008 Gafsa Riots and ultimately opting to toe the regime line, was able to successfully navigate the protest to its advantage. Despite an historically inactive labor and civil society landscape, UGTT was able to immediately respond to Bouazizi’s self-immolation by initially calling a strike in Sidi Bouzid and formulating plans for strikes to occur in outlying districts. In addition, Jendoubi, deputy secretary-general of the UGTT, oversaw subsequent strike efforts throughout the protest’s spread and eventually codified the general national strike on January 14. Converse to the missed opportunity of 2008, UGTT had leveraged its institutional position and historical proximity to the Ben Ali regime to its advantage and was instrumental in the protest’s ultimate victory on January 14, when President Ben Ali finally stepped down. In this way, the UGTT had assumed a vanguard position for the protest movement and would be a key player in any negotiations to follow.
Despite the ouster of Ben Ali, the nascent Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, led by the Islamist party, Ennahda, proved unable to strike a lasting settlement that would enshrine democratic governance. Only having won 89 of 217 parliamentary seats, Ennahda was forced into a tripartite coalition, joining secular parties CPR and Ettakatol. However, the alliance was ephemeral, and Ennahda was soon accused of attempting to impose an Islamist juridical order on the state. On March 20, 2012, protests were catalyzed by Ennahda’s proposed constitutional provisions that would have codified Islam as the official religion of the state. Such legal language would have all but enabled a path to the future incorporation of sharia law. Beyond protest, a number of high-profile political assassinations laid bare the fractured landscape of Tunisian politics. The murder of opposition leaders Chokri Belaid, leader of Watad, and Mohamed Brahmi, founder of the party Mouvement du Peuple, catalyzed a number of protests that threatened to dissolve the democratic gains made by the Constituent Assembly. In particular, Brahmi’s assassination was viewed as an irreparable blow to the constitutional process as a number of opposition parties withdrew from the Constituent Assembly altogether (Masri 65). As an immediate result of Brahmi’s murder, the front du salut national, or National Salvation Front, organized a month-long series of protests in July 2012, culminating in calls for Ennahda officials to step down. A particular locus was the Bardo National Museum, where protesters gathered and projected calls for totalizing government resignation — all encompassed by their campaign, Irhal. Previously, Ennahda, in the constitutional talks, had also made clear that women were to be placed in a “complementary” legal position, and not deserving of formal equality. Tensions in Egypt, by way of the coup that unseated Muslim Brotherhood leader and President Mohamed Morsi, also further exacerbated public resentment. Ansar Sharia, a Salafist-Islamist group operating primarily in Libya, was seen as responsible for the assassination of Brahmi, and the Troika correspondingly seen as not taking any retaliatory measures. The Tamarod Movement in Egypt, formed of disparate civil society and political opposition groups, seemed a natural analog to what front du salut national activists in Tunisia saw as the correct course of action in deposing the Islamist government. At this time, the UGTT was enabled to broker a national dialogue. Their historic proximity to the Ben Ali regime and the largest corporate firms, role in organizing a number of general strikes, and institutional make-up enabled the UGTT to engage in the national dialogue.
Given the critical situation, the UGTT took the first step in forming an alliance of civil societies by approaching the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, considered their historical rival. The Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers later joined.
The regional context of violent exacerbation, coupled with the local discontent against Ennahdha's performance in office, has put a huge question mark on the Tunisian transition. Although Ennahdha claimed to be a moderate political party, its perceived failure to fight extremist groups and its perceived dual speech has strengthened the belief of anti ennahdha people who claimed that this local branch of the Muslim brotherhood was a light cover for more extreme Islamic groups. The political assassinations against two opposition leaders, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, and the killing of Tunisian soldiers by Islamist terrorists in 2013, will polarize public opinion even more. Huge demonstrations started in the summer of 2013 in Bardo asking for both the constitutional assembly and the government to be dissolved. People wanted democracy to succeed, but not at the expense of security and progressive reform. Ennahdha, was committed to remain in office, and claimed its democratic legitimacy over power. Nidaa Tounes and the opposition argued that although Ennahdha access to power was democratic, the transition was supposed to last 1 year only and had one main objective: the drawing of a new democratic and consensual constitution for the country. 1 year and a half after Ennahdha accession to power, the constitution was far from being completed. The political debate was near a dead-end, and non-political actors will have to step in to find a solution. Civil society will step in a forge a national dialogue initiative to prevent Tunisia's transition to democracy to fail: the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was constituted on that premise.
On 29 July 2013, the Tunisian General Labour Union called for negotiations between the parties in power and the opposition. The parties accepted in September 2013, as the situation was worsening. On 17 September 2013, the initiative was made public and placed under the aegis of the Labour Union and three other civic organizations: the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Order of Lawyers and the Tunisian Human Rights League.
On 17 September 2013, the four organizations drafted an agreement between the parties suggesting compromises that would allow negotiations to commence. This draft roadmap had four main points: the resignation of the government and its replacement by an "independent technocratic" government, the choice of fixed dates for parliamentary recesses and elections (including presidential elections), the agreement to preserve national identity in the new constitution, and negotiation of the steps necessary for the transition to a democratic government (including deadlines for each).
Each political party had to accept the roadmap if it wanted to participate in the negotiations. Twenty-one parties from both sides signed the agreement, making the national dialogue possible. The only major party that refused to participate was the party of interim president Moncef Marzouki, the Congress for the Republic, which was one of the three parties in power.
The first dialogue session took place on 5 October 2013, at the Palais des Congrès in Tunis. During the discussions, a slip of the tongue (substituting the similarly pronounced Arabic word "jackass" in place of "dialogue") by Abdessattar Ben Moussa, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League caused gales of laughter among the delegates, even Rached Ghannouchi, president of the Ennahdha party.
After the initial session, subsequent talks continued regularly, under the aegis of the quartet, at the Transitional Ministry of Human Rights and Justice. During these discussions, the Quartet played an active role which was considered important to the success of these talks. They led to the choosing of Mehdi Jomaa as Prime Minister on 14 December, the resignation of the government of Ali Larayedh on 9 January 2014, the ratification of the new constitution on 24 January and presidential elections in December.
2015 Nobel Peace Prize
On 9 October 2015, the quartet was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011".
Kaci Kullmann Five, head of the Nobel Committee, said: "It established an alternative peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war". The Nobel committee said it hopes Tunisia will serve as an example for other countries.
- Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said the award recognizes the "path of consensus" and "Tunisia has no other solution than dialogue despite ideological disagreements". Mohammed Fadhel Mafoudh, head of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, said that the award "is the recognition of a whole process. It's a process that started so that Tunisia would have a democratic system … that respects freedoms" and "It's also a message to the rest of the world, to all countries, to all the people who aspire to democracy and peace...".
- U.S. President Barack Obama called the Quartet "an inspiring reminder that lasting peace and security can only be achieved when citizens are empowered to forge their own future and "that democracy is possible and necessary in North Africa and the Middle East".
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the Nobel Peace Prize is "the deserved reward for working on democracy, for sticking to the idea that a people that has shaken off dictatorship deserves something better than a new dictatorship".
- U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said to reporters in Geneva: "we need a civil society to help us to move peace processes forward".
- Ban Ki-moon said "this recognition belongs to all those who gave birth to the Arab Spring and are striving to safeguard the sacrifices of so many" and "this tribute highlights that lasting progress requires an inclusive process. The Arab Spring began with great hopes that were soon replaced with grave doubts. Tunisia has managed to avoid the disappointment and dashed hopes that have tragically emerged elsewhere".
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- Media related to Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet at Wikimedia Commons
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