The 2015 Nobel Prize for a Muslim country has given us opportunity to think about democracy and peaceful coexistence
KARACHI: The Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 went to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet comprising four key civil society organisations: the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. In 2011, when Tunisia faced the Arab Spring or the Jasmine Revolution due to political assassinations and widespread social unrest, the National Dialogue Quartet decisively contributed towards the formation of a pluralistic democracy in the wake of that revolution. The Quartet established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when Tunisia was on the brink of civil war. It became instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights to the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief. The Quartet organisations represented different sections of society and values like life and welfare, rule of law and human rights in Tunisian society.
Unlike in other countries facing the Arab Spring, the Quartet paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between citizens, political parties and the authorities, and helped find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of challenges across political and religious divides. What lessons have our civil society organisations learned from the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize winners? Our civil society has struggled for over four generations but the results are still questionable. Civil society in Pakistan is still working on basic life issues.
A huge portion of the population lives below the poverty line, with little population control, and education, health and the rule of law being in a shambles. Our civil society is directionless and only project oriented with money being the main source of their every activity. If Pakistan ever faces the same crisis as Tunisia, then we won’t have at our disposal the services of a single civil society organisation that can lead people out of the crisis. Bar councils all over Pakistan worked very hard during General Pervez Musharraf’s misrule but they failed to sustain their activities. Now, we have a divided bar everywhere.
The Quartet’s efforts have shown us that religious and secular political movements can work together through dialogue and a sense of national belonging in a region marked by conflict. We live in a time of conflict and instability. The civil society of Pakistan must think about its role in a national crisis, if and when it emerges, and how to make society more democratic and peaceful. The 2015 Nobel Prize for a civil society of a Muslim country has given us an opportunity to think about democracy and peaceful coexistence.
Aijaz Ali Khuwaja
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2015.
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