Tunisia is considered to be the cradle of the Arab Spring which has changed drastically the political landscape of the Middle East. It all started in December 2010 when mass protestations broke out in Tunisia because the people were discontent with the economic, political situation and the all-occurring corruption. Shortly after, in January 2011 the former ruler of Tunisia, Ben-Ali, had to step down. Three years later, in 2014, democratic parliamentary elections were held and a new Constitution was adopted. The uprising in Tunisia inspired many other democratic movements in the Arab world, but Tunisia remains the only country where democracy took root.
In the wake of the events of the Arab Spring a public conference was held at the UN office of Geneva on 21 April 2016 where the members of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, were talking about their experiences and hopes they have for the democratic Tunisia.
The quartet consists of four leading personalities of the Tunisian civil society. Mrs. Ouided Bouchamaoui, who is the President of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trae and Handicrafts, Mr. Hocine Abassi, the Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union, Mr. Abessatar Ben Moussa, who is the president of the Tunisian Human Rights League, and the president of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, Mr. Fadhel Mahfoud.
The Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Michael Moller, opened the conference. He reminded all participants that “dialogue can bring peace to society” and that the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize is an “inspiration to promote peace and democracy”. An intense debate was sparked under the moderation of Dr Ghassan Salamé, former Lebanese Minister of Culture and now Professor Emeritus of Science Po Paris.
First the four panellists should present one important aspect of the achievements, progress and obstacles of the democratic Tunisia. Mr. Ben Moussa explained the importance of human rights in a democratic society. He further proudly talked about the National Commission against Torture which had been instituted after the Revolution to set a precedent. Tunisia also plans to apply for the UN Human Rights Council.
With Ms. Bouchamaoui speaking the discussion shifted more on the economic problems still present in Tunisia. She expressed her concern that the Tunisia democracy remains fragile. It is also of utmost importance that young people find a job, and the regional economic imbalance needs to be tackle. As president of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts she also called for international investments in Tunisia.
Mr. Abassi talked more about the past of the union of which he is today’s president the UGTT. The struggle the UGTT had against France during the late 40’s. He stated clearly that he doesn’t want foreign intervention the people should determine their own fate, in regard to the Libyan crises from which Tunisia is strongly affected by refugees at its borders. To finally have peace in the Middle East, Mr. Abassi called for a solution of the “Palestinian problem”.
Lastly it was Mr. Fadhel Mahfoudh turn. He focused on education and the role of women in Tunisian society. He stressed the importance of achieving an educational standard and the importance lawyers played in Tunisia’s history from the liberation of the French protectorate until today’s society. But he also warned that Tunisia’s project must not fail as it would bring unforeseen consequences with it and would set a horrible precedent for the Arab world.
In conclusion, one can recognise the progress made in Tunisia’s society. Tunisian people have more freedom than before and hope of the much needed economic growth seems reasonable as a democratic Tunisia will attract more foreign investments. However there is still work to be done. The democratic state is still fragile, regional imbalances are a problem and education needs to improve a lot. But the most important thing the National Quartet showed us is that change can be achieved by dialogue and not by the use of violence.