Tunisian group receives Nobel Peace Prize for promoting democracy in Middle East

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The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, sending a message that democratization is possible in the Middle East and possibly expanding study abroad opportunities to UT students, according to a UT professor.

The Quartet — a group of several organizations comprised of business people, members of a labor union, lawyers and human rights activists — was rewarded for preventing civil war between Islamists and Secularists in post-Arab Spring Tunisia, according to Mounira Charrad, sociology and Middle Eastern studies and women’s and gender studies professor.

In the past, students participated in an exchange program with Egypt or Jordan, but following the award, Tunisia may become a more attractive country for UT students to study in, according to Charrad.

“However, students should know that this award does not resolve all problems for Tunisia,” Charrad said. “The country is still left with issues of great unemployment and a recovering economy.” 

Charrad said the prize was being awarded to the Quartet as a whole, instead of to each contributing organization.

“The major lesson is that different groups can cooperate for the collective good,” Charrad said.

More UT students should be aware of who wins the Nobel Peace Prize, according to biology freshman Nathaniel Alvarez.

“UT is always telling us, ‘what starts here changes the world,’” Alvarez said. “And the National Dialogue Quartet is an example of who we should try to be when we grow up.”

According to Jason Brownlee, government and Middle Eastern studies professor, while good leadership and courage played a part in Tunisia’s successful revolution, democratization would not have been possible without advancements in socioeconomic development, literacy and urban development.

“This helps us understand why things are going well in Tunisia as opposed to other countries like Egypt,” Brownlee said.

These societal advancements have historically allowed associations, such as the four that comprise the Quartet, to be present in Tunisian society. As a result, a greater range of people are involved in the political process, according to Charrad.

“For example, women were able to play a large role in the democratization process because Tunisian women enjoy rights that no other women in the Arab world have enjoyed,” Charrad said.

The Quartet acts as a powerful example to UT students, Brownlee said.

“UT students — and all of us — can understand and appreciate that democratic change comes about by courageous people doing very difficult work in tough circumstances,” Brownlee said.