EBRD 2016 Annual Meeting: Change in the SEMED region

By Larry  Sherwin

 EBRD 2016 Annual Meeting: Change in the SEMED region

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ouided Bouchamaoui (left) of Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet and Francis Malige (right), Managing Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus at the EBRD

A discussion with Nobel Peace Prize winner Ouided Bouchamaoui

“Everything is achieved through consensus,” noted Ouided Bouchamaoui in a free-ranging conversation on the first day of the EBRD’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in London which touched upon the origins and achievements of the “Jasmine Revolution” of 2010 in Tunisia.

Ms Bouchammaoui is President of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (known by the French acronym UTICA) and was a recipient, together with the other members of Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet, of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Her remarks at this EBRD discussion event harkened back to the events of 2010, as well as the extraordinary role the Quartet played in maintaining peace and democracy in the country.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ouided Bouchamaoui of Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet talks during the EBRD Annual Meeting and Business Forum 2016 about importance of EBRD's investments in Tunisia.

 

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She noted the slogans that accompanied the revolution – dignity, democracy, work – and highlighted what she called the “specifically unique case” of the Tunisian events.  It was, as she put it, a journey “from dictatorship to liberty”, an achievement saved a few years later by bringing together four disparate elements of civil society to achieve social consensus.

Ms Bouchamaoui hailed the adoption of the Tunisian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, assembly and religion as one of the most advanced in the Arab world. “We have free expression now, there are no taboo subjects, we discuss everything,” she added.

What became known as the National Dialogue Quartet was composed of four long-established groups, headed by respected public figures. In addition to Ms Bouchamaoui, it included Houcine Abassi, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT); Abdessattar Ben Moussa, President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH); and Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, President of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. 

In the summer of 2013, Tunisia’s young democracy was at a political crossroads and in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations, widespread social unrest and the prospect of a constitution which imposed limits on free expression and assembly.

Extraordinarily, a coalition of civil society organisations came together to create an alliance that would steer the country away from conflict and towards political compromise. What became known as the “Quartet” drew up a plan of action, a “roadmap” which was signed by the government then in power and which established a new and independent electoral commission, leading to elections as well as amendments to the constitution which took opposition concerns into account.

This peaceful resolution of a simmering conflict was much praised and was cited in October 2015 when the Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As the Norwegian Nobel Committee put it:  “The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet made a decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution… [It] paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between citizens, political parties and the authorities.”

Ms Bouchamaoui was asked by moderator Francis Malige, EBRD Managing Director, what the public reaction to the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize was. “Pride,” she said. “Pride by the whole of the Tunisian populace.” 

What remains to be done?  “You need to change people’s way of thinking,” she noted. She had a number of trenchant, relevant observations, with a special message for Tunisia’s young people:  “You saved the country, you were the source of the revolution, you are impatient.  Have confidence in your creativity, dare more, dare to be more creative.”