Nobel Peace Prize Awarded To A Group That Made The Arab Spring's Only Success Happen

"[They] established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war."

It has been nearly five years since an unemployed Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire, galvanizing a fierce revolution that toppled the country's longtime authoritarian leader. Since then, the country's relatively successful transition to democracy has been widely considered astounding in the context of the region's other efforts. On Friday, Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet received the Nobel Peace Prize for its "decisive contribution" to building a democracy in the turmoil following the revolution.

"[The Quartet] established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement. "It was thus instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief."

Tunisia's revolution spurred the Arab Spring uprisings in neighboring Middle East countries — Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt — that ultimately descended into violence and chaos. (In Syria, the ongoing and brutal civil war gave opportunity to religious extremists ISIS to thrive.) Though new and yet unstable, Tunisia's success offers a sliver of hope to those in the country and the region. 

The award came as a surprise to many, as figures such as Pope Francis (for his calls for economic equality) or German Chancellor Angela Merkel (for her efforts in the Europe refugee crisis) were widely speculated to win. 

But many received the news with joy.

The coalition consists of the Tunisian Human Rights League, the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Order of Lawyers and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. The committee stressed that the prize was awarded to the quartet, not the four organizations individually. 

"The quartet paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between the citizens, the political parties and the authorities, and helped to find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of the challenges across political and religious divides," Committee Chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five told The New York Times

Despite Tunisia's relative success, the country has seen growing political tension and terrorism acts

Houcine Abassi, leader of the Tunisian General Labour Union, found out about the award from an Associated Press reporter. He said he was "overwhelmed," adding:

It's a prize that crowns more than two years of efforts deployed by the quartet when the country was in danger on all fronts ... [Hopefully, it can] unite Tunisians to face the challenges presenting themselves now — first and foremost, the danger of terrorism.

Cover image via iStock / jon11