Role of Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet Post-Jasmine Revolution

The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was 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 Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is group of four civil society organisations. The group was formed in 2013 at a time when the Tunisia was at a crossroads between democracy and violence. The four groups are:

  1. The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT)
  2. The Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA)
  3. The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH)
  4. The Tunisian Order of Lawyers
What happened in Tunisia, Post-Jasmine Revolution?

Tunisia was the birth place of Arab Spring. In 2011, after the Jasmine Revolution and the fall of the dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Islamist party Ennahda and its allies won the election. They started filling the state machinery with their unqualified loyalists. They also tried to force a constitution that made Islam as the state religion and imposed new limits on the freedom of the citizens. This led the opposition groups demand for step down of the government.

Angered by the assassinations of two of its leaders and emboldened by Egypt’s army-backed ousting of an Islamist president, Tunisia’s opposition parties such as Tunisian General Labour Union, National Salvation Front, Popular Front, Union for Tunisia etc.  held protests against the ruling party. The government had agreed it would step down but wanted more guarantees of a fair handover.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet of civil society institutions in Tunisia came together to play an important in role transition of Tunisia from a crisis-like situation to a robust democracy. The quartet managed the tortuous political negotiations for a consensus-based Constitution, which was essential for transition to a robust democracy.

How Civil Society Organizations like UGTT became a role-model for civil society organizations around the world?

The transition in Tunisia is an inspiration for the countries that experiencing similar change. Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia was trigger for similar protests across the Arab world. However the events in post-revolution are different in Tunisia when compared to other nations of Arab Spring. Egypt saw the return of a “managed democracy” with a military leader coming to power. Libya descended into anarchy with the intervention of outsiders. However, in Tunisia, the UGTT (formed in 1946) with its long history and extensive experience in the art of negotiations brought the political parties to agree to a new political road map in 2013.

In a critical situation, UGTT along with other civil societies negotiated between the two opponents and formed a care taker government to hold the power till the new elections were held. It had conducted regular talks for formation of a new constitution and to take a path of democracy. After success of the talk’s new government was formed. Legitimacy was accorded to the UGTT’s negotiating role by the other members of the Quartet, which have also had a historical presence. In this way, the UGTT and the civil society quartet in Tunisia played a crucial role for formation of a democratic country within a span of few years.

What lessons can be learnt by India / world from UGTT and quartet?

As India’s own history shows, the democratisation is invariably a slow and tortuous process. Its success is based on the strength of civil society organisations and the legitimacy of political organisations. The lesson from the story of Tunisia’s is that national civil society organisations have a role that goes beyond their traditional work.  The Tunisian quartet’s challenged the idea that inter-state moderation is the best way of solving difficult problems. Internal solution is always a better idea than external intervention. The quartet’s decision to engage all the divided parties demonstrated the need for inclusion rather than exclusion – a key principle for pluralist democracy and for prospects of a smooth democratic transition. Finding the most suitable approach and engaging the right people with the right skills isn’t straightforward. So strengthening capacities to mediate and manage complex conflicts will often be essential. The other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa may follow the path of Tunisia to identify a peaceful path for transition to stable democracies.

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