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Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its contribution to building democracy after the so-called Jasmine Revolution in 2011, the Nobel Committee announce Friday.
The quartet — made up of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers — “established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war,” said Kaci Kullman Five, head of the committee.
The committee said the quartet played a key role as a mediator and force for democracy, paving the way for a peaceful dialogue among citizens, political parties and authorities across political and religious divides, countering the spread of violence.
It was formed after the July 2013 assassination of left-wing politician Mohamed Brahmi plunged the country into crisis with opposition parties boycotting the parliament. A national dialogue led by the quartet succeeded in negotiating a transition from a government led by the more religiously-minded Ennahda party to an interim government of technocrats tasked with organizing new elections for a permanent government.
The dialogue nearly broke down several times but ultimately succeeded and has been held up as a stark contrast to the coup in Egypt that removed an elected government there during the summer of 2013.
“More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the Committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries,” Kullman Five added.
The prize is a huge victory for Tunisia, whose young and still shaky democracy has suffered recent setbacks, with two attacks this year killing 60 people and devastating the tourism industry. An assault at a beach resort in Sousse in June left 38 dead, mostly British tourists, while another in March killed 22 people, again mostly tourists, at the country's leading museum, the Bardo in Tunis.
Nonetheless, Tunisia has been less violent and has been more stable than other nations in the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, with Yemen, Libya and Syria plunged back into sectarian violence in the years following the wave of revolutionary protests that began in late 2010.
The uprising in Tunisia, provoked by high unemployment, corruption, dashed expectations and decades of repression by brutal security services, was set off on Dec. 17, 2010, when an itinerant fruit vendor set himself on fire in a remote southern city after he was manhandled by police.
The Nobel committee said the prize was also intended as an encouragement to other countries to follow in Tunisia's footsteps.
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that this year's prize will contribute towards safeguarding democracy in Tunisia and be an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East, North Africa and the rest of the world,” it said.
Houcine Abassi, the leader of the Tunisian General Labor Union, told The Associated Press he was “overwhelmed” by the award.
“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,” he said. Abassi said he hopes the award will help “unite Tunisians to face the challenges presenting themselves now — first and foremost, the danger of terrorism.”
Wided Bouchamaoui, head of the trade group in the quartet, said Tunisia's experience could be “exportable” to other countries.
She said told France's i-Tele television the prize “is for all the Tunisian people.”
Tunisian broadcast media interrupted coverage to excitedly announce the prize, and social media exploded with celebratory commentary.
The decision came as a surprise to many, with speculation having focused on Europe's migrant crisis or the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal in July.
“It is a very good prize that tries to get into the heart of the conflict in the Muslim world,” said Oeyvind Stenersen, a Nobel historian. “But it was a bit bewildering. It was very unexpected.”
The prize comes the day after unidentified assailants shot repeatedly at a lawmaker and prominent sports magnate in Sousse, underscoring a sense of uncertainty in the Tunisian city, which depends heavily on tourism.
The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 8 million Swedish krona ($972,000), will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.
The laureates will receive their prizes at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize creator Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist and scientist.