Historical archive

Revolution, Dialogue, and Transition: What the World Can Learn from Tunisia?

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

State Secretary Tore Hattrem's opening remarks at a Tunisia conference  in Oslo 8 December. The conference was arranged by Fafo, The University in Oslo and International Law and Policy Institute (Ilpi).

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I congratulate Tunisia with the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. The dialogue quartet is a deserving and important winner.

This year's Peace Prize celebrates the Tunisian spirit of political cooperation and compromise.

What can the world learn from Tunisia? There is both a short and a long answer to this question.

Let me start with the short one: The world can learn how to avoid violent conflict through inclusive national dialogue.

The quartet facilitated peace and stability in a highly volatile and challenging situation.

The job is, however, not over. This leads me to the long answer.

The long answer includes the events that took place in 2011. North Africa and the Middle East has seen great instability since the start of the Arab spring.

Many countries have seen social unrest. In other places, like Syria, the uprisings of the Arabic spring ignited violent conflicts. Conflicts leading to unspeakable human suffering and the loss of uncountable lives.

We have seen how changes in the structure and social fabrics of societies and nations may lead to volatile situations.

Explanations can be found on both the micro and macro level.

In Tunisia in 2011 and beyond, we could observe many of the same drivers that eventually triggered violent conflict elsewhere in the region: Fast societal changes, important groups losing power and influence, high unemployment and large, underprivileged groups left in poverty.

Yet this week, we celebrate that the hopes from the Arab spring are still very much alive in Tunisia. The Nobel committee awarded this year's Peace Prize to Tunisian civil society organisations.

Together they worked as one, as a quartet. They played a bold and crucial role by establishing a broad alliance within civil society. An alliance that collaborated, compromised, mediated and negotiated peaceful solutions.

The quartet grabbed a role, it took responsibility, it listened and it was given space. It worked for Tunisia's national interest, and influenced the political parties to do the same.

As a result, the opportunity of the Arab spring was not lost in Tunisia.

The absence of violence did not mean all parties agreed, or that the potential for violence disappeared.

Yet the inclusive national dialogue succeeded in creating a positive and constructive momentum for a Tunisian led democratic development. This facilitated the promulgation of a constitution and elections in 2014.

The elections mandated a coalition of political parties to lead the country. External powers initiated none of this – Tunisia's own political forces and civil society led the process.

As I mentioned earlier, the job in Tunisia is not over. In fact, a vibrant democracy requires constant work.

Similarly, democracy does not in itself guarantee national peace. To the contrary, the expectations that follow a democratic process can even fuel renewed conflict if they are not met.

The democratic system is just a way to organise the political and social dialogue in a country.

For Tunisia, it is now important to address poverty and equal opportunities. To offer stability and the rule of law. To balance the protection of citizens and fundamental human rights.

2015 has also been a year where we have seen three atrocious terrorist attacks in Tunisia. Both civilians and the government have been targeted. The attacks demonstrate how volatile the situation is, and challenge all parts of society. They create fears and doubts. They affect the economy in a negative way

The current migration crisis is another great challenge for both Europe, North-Africa and the Middle East. Tunisians are not fleeing for other countries, and Tunisia is not a transit country for this traffic.

Still, several of the foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are of Tunisian origin. And the horrible terrorist attacks demonstrate that the roots of extremism may still find fertile ground in Tunisia.

All of this underscores the importance of creating opportunities for the Tunisian people, especially for the youth.

The positive developments in Tunisia deserve to be celebrated. Yet they must also be supported. The Peace Prize will highlight the importance of the situation in Tunisia.

I hope it will also re-ignite the international support for Tunisia's efforts to create opportunities for its citizens through stability, security and economic growth.

Security must be improved to revive the tourist sector that so many people are dependent on. The economy must be revived and stabilised in order to decrease recruitment to local and regional extremist networks.

Norway will continue our strong support for Tunisia. We have strengthened our engagement in the Maghreb through initiatives in the field of democracy, human rights and inclusive economic development.

We are also planning a new collaboration through Sintef, the Sahara Forest Project, Ilpi and UNDP. These are new initiatives and will be part of strengthening the bilateral relationship between our two countries.

We are also strengthening the ties between civil society in Tunisia and Norway.

Both the Norwegian industrial organisation and labour union are currently engaging with their sister organisations in Tunisia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are still murky waters ahead for Tunisia. The challenges are massive and important. They need to be handled in the same manner as Tunisia has handled the situation after 2011 – through an active and watchful civil society, through dialogue and compromise.

The world can learn a lot from the turn of events in Tunisia. And I sincerely hope the world will continue its support for positive developments in Tunisia in the years to come. This is what we are celebrating in Oslo this week.

Thank you.