This is to explain the difficult situation we were experiencing when the idea of a National Tunisian Dialogue was launched in 2013. Such a dialogue would not have been possible without the famous “secret” meeting held on August 15th, 2013, between the two great sheikhs (wise elders), Béji Caïd Essebsi and Rached Ghanouchi. Only a few insiders knew of this meeting. Neither public opinion nor the followers of these two leaders were aware of what was being planned behind the scenes. With the return of the political season it would be necessary to move on to the serious phase of the process. This required an enormous amount of educational work, since tension was running very high among supporters after a long sit-in organised outside the Constituent Assembly following the assassination of a left-wing MP on July 25th. Calming everyone and moving on to establish a dialogue to avoid an Egyptian-styled scenario was a huge gamble. The role played by the country’s most important workers union, the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT) was a decisive and determining factor. Following two setbacks, in particular when the leader of the main trade union disappointed supporters of civil disobedience forcing the government to fall, Tunisia’s destiny was sealed on October 25th with an official announcement that this dialogue had been established.
In its infancy, with a difficult and chaotic start, this dialogue ended up by saving Tunisia from a catastrophe. It obliged the most obstructive Islamists to accept the formation of a transition government and the most radical on the Left to stop calling for revenge for the shamefully murdered MP. The process achieved success within about a year with the adoption of a constitution approved by almost all members and then with the second peaceful transition of power since the revolution (2011 and 2014).
The Nobel Peace Prize, assigned this year to Tunisian civil society, represented by the four main players in this national dialogue (UGTT, UTICA, the LTDH and the Order of Lawyers) was designated specifically in order to provide this experience with a universal dimension. It is a powerful signal sent to nearby Libya, which could be saved thanks to a similar process, but supported more actively by the international community. The chances that such a process would succeed in Yemen are fewer, but still very possible. Syria is an even more complex case, but national dialogue is the only alternative to the country’s total destruction and perpetual war, or to the risk of slipping towards a conflict between the West and Russia.
In Tunisia we are proud of our experience and we feel supportive of other nations aspiring to achieve peaceful and realistic change. We thank the partners who supported us and helped us create this small miracle.
Professor Mohamed Haddad is the President of the Arab Observatory of religions and freedom