The EBRD is delighted to welcome the four members of National Dialogue Quartet, winners of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, to our 25th Annual Meeting and Business Forum.
Their commitment to peaceful social change in Tunisia will be at the heart of a discussion in London of how civil society can have a positive impact on the course of political events.
It was in December 2010 that a humble Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest at confiscation of his wares, and at the harassment and humiliation he suffered at the hands of small-town bureaucrats.
His single act of desperation precipitated massive street demonstrations across Tunisia which in turn rippled across the Arab world, toppling governments and sparking a yearning for political and social change which continues to this day.
Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” is the starting point of what became known in the West as the Arab Spring. It is also the starting point of a process which brought four Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, into the EBRD as the Bank expanded its mandate to the southern and eastern Mediterranean – what we call the SEMED region.
In the summer of 2013, Tunisia’s young democracy was at a political crossroads, in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations, widespread social unrest and the prospect of a constitution which imposed limits on free expression and assembly.
Extraordinarily, a coalition of civil society organisation came together to create an alliance that would steer the country away from conflict and towards political compromise.
What became known as the National Dialogue Quartet was composed of four long-established groups, headed by respected public figures: Houcine Abassi, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT); Abdessattar Ben Moussa, President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH); Ouided Bouchamaoui, President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA); and Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, President of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
The Quartet drew up a plan of action, a “roadmap” which was signed by the government then in power and which established a new and independent electoral commission, leading to elections as well as amendments to the constitution which took opposition concerns into account.
This peaceful resolution of a simmering conflict was much praised and was cited in October 2015 when the Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As the Norwegian Nobel Committee put it: “The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet made a decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution… [It] paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between citizens, political parties and the authorities.”
In this discussion at our 2016 Annual Meeting and Business Forum on 11 May, we assess the achievements of the National Dialogue Quartet with its members themselves. We look back at the successes and shortcomings of political and social developments over the past five years in Tunisia and elsewhere.
And we look forward to the challenges and obstacles facing policy-makers, politicians and civil society organisations across the SEMED region. What are the prospects for peaceful, lasting change?
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