Nobel Peace Prize Highlights Conflict Resolution Role of NGOs in Tunisia

By Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the National Dialogue Quartet of Tunisian NGOs who in 2013, when the country was on the brink of civil war, provided for negotiations among socio-political factions leading to more inclusive and democratic structures for the country. The National Dialogue Quartet were the representatives of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League, and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers − all non-governmental Organizations (NGOs).

The transition from the 23-year rule of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali began on December 17, 2010 with the suicide-protest of the young Mohamed Bouazizi, a college-educated street vender, and the police repression at his funeral.

Tunisia under Ben Ali was a police state in the literal sense of the word. There was a constant presence of the police with arrests, lengthy interrogations, torture and for those with luck, exile. The press and other media were closely watched and in some cases owned by the Ben Ali-Trabelsi family. The Trabelsi are the family of Ben Ali’s powerful wife, Leila, and held important business positions.

Tunisia had had only two presidents since the end of the French Protectorate in 1956. The first was Habib Bourguiba and his Destourian Socialist Party. At independence, the literacy rate was about 15 percent, but many of those considered literate had received only limited education at traditional Koranic schools and could not read secular works. In 1958, Bourgiba initiated educational reforms and a vast program of building schools and universities leading Tunisia to having today a well-educated Middle Class. Bourguiba also stressed education and employment for women saying “Female workers must be trained and given jobs. Work contributes to female emancipation. By her labor, a woman or young girl assumes her existence and becomes conscious of her dignity.”

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