Boost for Arab Spring: Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet wins Nobel Peace Prize

Updated 4:50 PM EDT, Fri October 9, 2015
Tunisian mediators arrive to give a press conference to announce the result of its latest bid to mediate an end to the crisis on September 21, 2013 in Tunis. (LtoR) The President of the Tunisian employers union (UTICA), Wided Bouchamaoui, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Houcine Abbassi (L) , President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), Abdessattar ben Moussa and the president of the National Bar Association, Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh. Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, Ennahda announced on September 20, 2013 that it has accepted an ambitious roadmap proposed by the mediators to form a government of technocrats and resolve the country's two-month-old political crisis.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian mediators arrive to give a press conference to announce the result of its latest bid to mediate an end to the crisis on September 21, 2013 in Tunis. (LtoR) The President of the Tunisian employers union (UTICA), Wided Bouchamaoui, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Houcine Abbassi (L) , President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), Abdessattar ben Moussa and the president of the National Bar Association, Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh. Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, Ennahda announced on September 20, 2013 that it has accepted an ambitious roadmap proposed by the mediators to form a government of technocrats and resolve the country's two-month-old political crisis.
Now playing
03:44
Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet awarded Nobel Peace Prize
In this recent undated handout photo, Chinese dissident and Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, left, is attended to by his wife Liu Xia in a hospital in China. Liu Xiaobo has been released from prison on medical parole after being diagnosed earlier June 2017 with late-stage liver cancer and is being treated in a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang. He had been more than half-way through an 11-year sentence after being convicted in 2009 on subversion charges. (Photo via AP)
AP
In this recent undated handout photo, Chinese dissident and Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, left, is attended to by his wife Liu Xia in a hospital in China. Liu Xiaobo has been released from prison on medical parole after being diagnosed earlier June 2017 with late-stage liver cancer and is being treated in a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang. He had been more than half-way through an 11-year sentence after being convicted in 2009 on subversion charges. (Photo via AP)
Now playing
02:04
Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo dies at 61
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 12:  Musician Bob Dylan performs onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards held at The Hollywood Palladium on January 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images   for VH1)
Christopher Polk/Getty Images
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 12: Musician Bob Dylan performs onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards held at The Hollywood Palladium on January 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for VH1)
Now playing
01:19
Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize in Literature
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi attends the Nobel Peace Prize press conference at the Norwegian Nobel Institute on December 9, 2014 in Oslo, Norway.
Nigel Waldron/Getty Images
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi attends the Nobel Peace Prize press conference at the Norwegian Nobel Institute on December 9, 2014 in Oslo, Norway.
Now playing
02:46
Malala becomes youngest Nobel winner
Now playing
02:39
What does a Nobel Prize winner read?
:German Nobel literature laureate Gunter Grass poses for a photo at his house in the northern German town of Behlendorf on April 5, 2012.
MARCUS BRANDT/AFP/Getty Images
:German Nobel literature laureate Gunter Grass poses for a photo at his house in the northern German town of Behlendorf on April 5, 2012.
Now playing
02:49
2006: Look back at Nobel literature winner Günter Grass
exp Nobel Laureate in Chemistry_00002001.jpg
exp Nobel Laureate in Chemistry_00002001.jpg
Now playing
04:19
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
cnni scientist gets nobel for micropscope _00001215.jpg
cnni scientist gets nobel for micropscope _00001215.jpg
Now playing
03:16
Invention lets you see the unseeable
exp Nobel Prize winners_00002001.jpg
exp Nobel Prize winners_00002001.jpg
Now playing
04:46
Nobel Prize winners
pkg robertson malala nobel_00004427.jpg
pkg robertson malala nobel_00004427.jpg
Now playing
02:44
Malala splits Nobel Peace Prize
pkg udas india kailash satyarthi profile_00004710.jpg
pkg udas india kailash satyarthi profile_00004710.jpg
Now playing
02:04
Satyarthi: A kid's advocate for decades

Story highlights

The quartet is dedicated to creating dialogue between elements of Tunisia

The Norwegian Nobel Committee keeps nominees secret for 50 years

(CNN) —  

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee confounded expectations Friday, bypassing figures such as Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and handed the award to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in the country in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.”

The group is dedicated to creating dialogue between disparate elements of Tunisian society.

“The quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 when the democratization process was in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations and widespread social unrest,” the Nobel Committee said. “It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war. It was thus instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief.”

The group includes a labor union, a trade confederation, a human rights organization and a lawyers group.

According to Tunisian media, the organizations and their leaders are: the Tunisian General Labour Union, Houcine Abbassi; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, Wided Bouchamaoui; the Tunisian Human Rights League, Abdessattar Ben Moussa; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh.

Nobel Peace Prize: 5 things to know

A prize to encourage the faltering Arab Spring

In a broader sense, the prize appeared to be an effort by the Nobel Committee to bolster the Arab Spring – which, indeed, began in Tunisia in December 2010.

The Arab Spring dawned with hope and idealism, and spread across parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

But it has seen those ideals mired in bitter reality in many countries – most notably in Syria, where an uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad has morphed into a devastating civil war that has pushed waves of desperate people to attempt to migrate to Europe.

No one does secrecy like the Nobel Committee, and the Tunisian group did not figure in the popular speculation or in the favorites named by betting organizations.

Instead, the betting had centered on Francis, for his calls for economic fairness in the world, and Merkel, for her courage in welcoming many among the tide of people fleeing to Europe – in large part because of chaos in the Middle East, the scene of such hope during the Arab Spring.

As the Nobel Committee noted Friday in its statement, “The Arab Spring originated in Tunisia in 2010-2011, but quickly spread to a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In many of these countries, the struggle for democracy and fundamental rights has come to a standstill or suffered setbacks.”

Scientists share Nobel Prize for medicine for work on parasitic diseases

Prominent people, including Snowden, passed over

The Arab Spring began when a Tunisian street vendor named Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouaziz fatally set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, to protest harassment by authorities. In the anger that followed, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years, stepped down the following January.

Within a couple of years, leaders had been forced from power in Egypt, Yemen and Libya. Popular protests broke out in numerous other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria.

But tearing down the old order is always easier than building the new. By 2013, as the Nobel Committee noted in its announcement, “the democratization process was in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations and widespread social unrest.”

Opinion: A bittersweet Nobel Prize

The quartet, the Nobel Committee said, “established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.”

Besides Francis and Merkel, other betting favorites had included:

• American Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents about secret U.S. surveillance programs

• Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who agreed to a path for peace this year, setting the groundwork for a final accord

• Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief and one of the founders of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper

• The Article 9 Association, a pacifist group fighting to preserve a Japanese constitutional clause that prohibits war as a means of settling international disputes

• Jeanne Nacatche Banyere, Jeannette Kahindo Bindu and Dr. Denis Mukwege, who help rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

• Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest who is a phone contact for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea for Europe, passing on the coordinates of their boats to rescuers and coast guards

• Raif Badawi, who in 2008 launched the Free Saudi Liberals website.

Nobel Prize winner combed ancient Chinese texts for malaria cure

CNN’s Margot Haddad contributed to this report.