Award ceremony speech

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Presentation Speech by Kaci Kullmann Five, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2015.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Laureate, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Revolution of 2011.

It gives the Nobel Committee great pleasure to extend to the Quartet’s representatives a warm welcome to this year’s Peace Prize award ceremony: Hassine Abassi, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, President of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers (ONAT), Abdessatar Ben Moussa, President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) and Ouided Bouchamaoui, President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA).

Aux quatre représentants du Quartet, Lauréat du Prix Nobel de la Paix, je dis – soyez les bienvenus à Oslo!

The narrative underlying this year’s Peace Prize is a dramatic one. It speaks to the core of Alfred Nobel’s will and Nobel’s vision of fraternity, disarmament and peace-building forums. Not because the Quartet has actively sought to promote disarmament, but because its work has led to a better platform for peace and non-violent resolution of conflicts. This is a story about building strong institutions to ensure justice and stability, and demonstrating the will to engage in dialogue and cooperation.

This year’s prize is truly a prize for peace, awarded against a backdrop of unrest and war.

In the summer of 2013, Tunisia was on the brink of civil war. The Quartet’s resolute intervention helped to halt the spiralling violence and put developments on a peaceful track. Tunisia was spared the horrors of civil war and instead established a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, regardless of gender, political conviction or religious belief.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an admirable accomplishment, and indeed worthy of a Nobel prize!

The Quartet – receiving the Peace Prize as one entity, not as four organisations – represents different sectors and values in Tunisian society: working life, welfare, principles of the rule of law and human rights. This diversity gave the Quartet the moral authority to exercise its role as a mediator and driving force for peaceful democratic development in Tunisia. The Quartet has thus helped to lay the groundwork for national fraternity in the spirit of Alfred Nobel. The Committee hopes that this will serve as an example for other countries to follow, thereby fostering peace.

We live in turbulent times. In North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, millions of people are fleeing from war, oppression, suffering and terror. The causes of the refugee crisis are numerous and complex, and there are no simple solutions. But one thing is indisputable: if every country had done as Tunisia has done, and paved the way for dialogue, tolerance, democracy and equal rights, far fewer people would have been forced to flee. Tunisia has shown the world that Islamist and secular political movements can negotiate with one another to reach solutions in the country’s best interests, if only they are willing to do so!

But there are also forces, dark forces, which for that very reason do not want Tunisia to succeed – which see the emergence of democracy and equal rights for all, including women, in an Arab Muslim country as a threat to their own ambitions for power, and as irreconcilable with their own extremist mind-set. This poses major security challenges for Tunisia. Security measures, states of emergency and ideological battles alone cannot solve these challenges. Economic and political reforms, not least a sustained effort to combat corruption, are also needed.

Let us take a closer look at the story behind this year’s prize, and see just what makes it a Peace Prize in the truest sense.

The Arab Spring originated in Tunisia. To understand the causes of the uprising, it may help to quote the then 19-year-old Tunisian author Samar al-Mazghani, who shortly before the revolution described the paralysing hopelessness she felt in her home country under the Ben Ali dictatorship: “Here, we live with no dreams, or we dream with no life. … And our dreams are postponed until something happens to change this reality.” That something occurred just months later: on 17 December 2010, the 26-year-old fruit and vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a desperate protest against the corruption and misrule that prevailed in his home town of Sidi Bouzid.

The tragic incident sparked long-suppressed anger among the inhabitants of Sidi Bouzid. Social media communicated news of what had happened, and the rage spread, culminating in nation-wide protests and demonstrations. Four weeks later, President Ben Ali, Tunisia’s autocratic leader for many years, fled to Saudi Arabia. The dictator had experienced the truth of the old Tunisian saying, “The multitude is stronger than the king”.

However, events gradually took a turn that aroused concern in Tunisia. The government, spearheaded by the Islamist party Ennahda, tried to insert provisions into the new constitution that would have had negative consequences for the status of women in society. Even before the revolution, Tunisian women had enjoyed greater freedom than women in other Arab countries. Now they wanted full equality, not reduced rights.

The situation gradually got worse. After two shocking political assassinations and the killing of eight Tunisian soldiers by terrorists, alongside large demonstrations against the government, many feared that the security situation was spiralling out of control. Peace was truly in jeopardy.

It was at this critical moment that the Quartet was established.

At the initiative of the Labour Union UGTT’s Secretary General Hassine Abassi, the four organisations presented a joint proposal for resolving the national crisis. Their plan was to convince the 21 political parties in the Constituent Assembly to participate in a national dialogue under the oversight of the Quartet. The national dialogue was to be an egalitarian, compromise-oriented process, in which everyone would have a say, and each party would have the same number of votes, regardless of its size.

More specifically, the Quartet required the parties to sign an agreement – known as the “road map” – comprising three main points:

The sitting three-party government was to relinquish power.

A non-partisan technocratic government was to be appointed to govern the country until new parliamentary elections were held.

The Constituent Assembly of Tunisia was to complete its work by a specified deadline, and appoint an independent commission to prepare elections of a new parliament and a new president in the autumn of 2014.

The government initially rejected the Quartet’s initiative, but after lengthy and difficult negotiations, the Quartet succeeded, slowly but surely, in bringing all the parties in Tunisia to the negotiation table. A decisive breakthrough was achieved when first two, and eventually all three, government parties agreed to step down as soon as the new constitution was adopted.

With the road map in place, the Constituent Assembly completed its demanding task within the stipulated time limit and in close cooperation with the Quartet and the other parties to the national dialogue process. Tunisia’s new constitution was adopted on 26 January 2014. It is considered the most egalitarian and democratic constitution in the Arab world.

In accordance with the road map, the Troika government resigned and was replaced by a caretaker government. With that, the Quartet had fulfilled its self-defined mandate, and could conclude its role as mediator. The ultimate validation of the Quartet’s historical effort came in the autumn of 2014, when the parliamentary and presidential elections were carried out. Both the technocratic government and the interim president resigned and were replaced by lawfully elected successors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tunisia’s path to democracy and rule of law since the Revolution of 2011 is remarkable for several reasons.

First: Cooperation across religious divisions. Although Ennahda and the secular parties often stood on opposing sides during the work on the new constitution, they were compelled by the national dialogue process to negotiate and reach compromises in the best interests of Tunisian society as a whole, not just their own supporters. This gave the main religious parties part-ownership of the emerging democracy and the new constitution they were helping to shape. Those who claim that Islam and democracy are incompatible, or that Islamic and secular parties cannot work together for the good of society, need only look to Tunisia.

Second: The key role played by women. Women took the lead in the protests against political violence and against the attempts to introduce highly oppressive gender provisions in the new constitution. Without women’s participation, the fruits of the Revolution could easily have been lost. Women must have the same opportunities as men to influence developments at every level of society if genuine democracy and lasting peace are to be achieved. If there is anyone who still doubts that this goal is attainable in Muslim and Arab countries, let him or her look to Tunisia.

Third: Peaceful transitions of power. Since the revolution in 2011 Tunisia has witnessed several shifts of government and presidents. Tunisian politicians and parties deserve credit for their willingness to accept the will of the people and the rules of democracy, even when this made it necessary for them to resign or step down in favour of their opponents.   

Last, but not least: The crucial importance of civil society. When the constitutional process foundered and the government institutions and parties failed to resolve the political crisis, civil society organisations and representatives stepped in to assume national responsibility. There was no stronger symbol of this commitment than the National Dialogue Quartet. But it did not stand alone. Other organisations also contributed, each in its own way. We can truly say, therefore, that the peace, democracy and constitutional state we now see are the work of the Tunisian people.

Dear Quartet,

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that Tunisia faces major challenges, and that a great deal of work remains to be done. We hope that the Peace Prize will help to ensure that there is no return to the Tunisia that existed before democracy, before the revolution. And we hope, moreover, that the laws and institutions that the national dialogue process has helped create will be a foundation for lasting stability and progress. Or as the British-Irish politician Edmund Burke once advised another people, after another historic revolution: “Make the Revolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions.”

Tunisia’s security challenges are urgent. They are all too familiar to us. They resemble our own. They are our own. In this time of terror, the threats against Tunisia and the Tunisian people are indistinguishable from the threats against other countries. They are the same forces that broke the peace this autumn with acts of terrorism in so many places, including Beirut, Ankara, in the airspace over the Sinai peninsula, and in Paris, Bamako and Tunis, and that recently murdered a Norwegian, a Chinese and a Russian hostage in Syria. Because the threat is essentially the same to us all, we must stand together to combat it.

For that very reason, this is the time to mobilise support for Tunisia and help to ensure that the democratisation process is continued and safeguarded. Among a great many other things, that means providing support for economic development and cooperation. The international community must assume its responsibility and invest in Tunisia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the most important results of the national dialogue process is, without a doubt, the constitution of 26 January 2014. As I said earlier, it is the most democratic constitution in the entire Arab world. Members of the National Dialogue Quartet, it is easy for us Norwegians to appreciate the importance of this achievement. In the same year that you helped steer the constitutional process to a successful conclusion, the Norwegian people celebrated the 200th anniversary of their constitution. It was one of the most radical and democratic constitutions of its time, and we are still proud of it. It is the hope of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that, 200 years from now, the people of Tunisia will look back on the founding fathers and mothers of their constitution, including the National Dialogue Quartet, with the same sense of pride.

In closing, I would like to share with you that the boy you see on this year’s Nobel diploma is intended by the artist to symbolise the uncertain future faced by young people today, especially all those who feel that they have no power or opportunity to influence it. This is a forceful, eloquent image. The expression on the young boy’s face reflects a cry for hope for the future, for the opportunity to be seen and heard, take part in society, use his skills and live in peace and security.

We hope that this diploma will inspire the Quartet and all positive forces in Tunisia to continue their shared search for peaceful, forward-looking solutions, around the negotiation table, for the good of the nation.

And may the diploma remind us all of our obligation to the millions of children and young people who, while we are gathered here today, feel as if they are groping in the dark, with no hope or faith in the future. May these young people have the blindfold removed from their eyes and see a brighter future, a future in peace and freedom.

Inspired by this vision, I would like to conclude with the words of an earlier Peace Prize laureate, Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2015

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