Nobel Prize

Nobel Peace Prize: In Tunisia Alone Is the "Arab Spring" Still Green

Here's hoping that the award will help safeguard Tunisia's nascent democracy.


Nobel Committee

Some years ago, I predicted that the Arab Spring drive to create democratic regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria would fail. My conclusion was based on evidence from political science studies. In particular, I noted:

The auguries of political science strongly predict that the Arab Spring rebellions will succumb to new autocrats in the near term….

[Why?] Because, broadly speaking, data on the arcs of post–World War II revolutions suggests that their chances of successfully transitioning from autocracy to democracy are less than 50/50.

That dispiriting appraisal is based on a new data set, compiled by the UCLA political scientist Barbara Geddes and her colleagues, that provides transition information for the 280 autocratic regimes (in 110 countries with a population of more than a million) in existence from 1946 to 2010. More than half of the time, one autocrat has been followed by another. The odds of transitioning from autocracy to democracy are even worse for personalist dictatorships and one-party states, although military dictatorships make the transition about two-thirds of the time. A personalist dictator is a ruler who basically runs the state as a family business. As it happens, all of the regimes in which Arab Spring revolutions were successful were more or less personalist dictatorships: Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, and Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria.

And so my predictions have so far proved all too sadly true, except in the case of Tunisia.

I am happy to report that today the Nobel Prize committee anncounced that it is awarding this year's Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. In the Quartet came together in the wake of a series of political assasinations and growing civil unrest that was destabilizing efforts to create a constitutional and democratic government. The Quartet has comprised of the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League, and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

The result of these efforts was the election of a secular-Islamist coalition government earlier this year.

From the Nobel Committee's press release:

The course that events have taken in Tunisia since the fall of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime in January 2011 is unique and remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, it shows that Islamist and secular political movements can work together to achieve significant results in the country's best interests. The example of Tunisia thus underscores the value of dialogue and a sense of national belonging in a region marked by conflict. Secondly, the transition in Tunisia shows that civil society institutions and organizations can play a crucial role in a country's democratization, and that such a process, even under difficult circumstances, can lead to free elections and the peaceful transfer of power. The National Dialogue Quartet must be given much of the credit for this achievement and for ensuring that the benefits of the Jasmine Revolution have not been lost.

Tunisia faces significant political, economic and security challenges. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that this year's prize will contribute towards safeguarding democracy in Tunisia and be an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East, North Africa and the rest of the world. More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the Committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries.

Hearty congratulations to the Quartet. Holding elections is much easier than inculcating liberal democratic values, but surely we all join the Nobel Committee in hoping that year's prize will contribute towards safeguarding Tunisia's nascent democracy.