From HuffPost Maghreb
10/12/2015 08:08 am ET | Updated Oct 12, 2015

This Is Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet

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On Friday, Oct. 9, the world was introduced to an initiative that may have seemed somewhat obscure: the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The Quartet -- which emerged in the Arab country most famous for instigating the Arab Spring -- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in the process defeating figures such as John Kerry, Angela Merkel and Pope Francis.

But many people have asked: What exactly is the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet? And how has this initiative managed to create consensus among various political powers?

To understand the Quartet, we need to go back in time two years -- to July 25, 2013. Tunisia woke up to terrible news: Tunisian opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi had been assassinated, just six months after the assassination of leftist leader Chokri Belaid.

Thousands of people protested in the streets, joining opposition political parties in their call for the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh's government and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (which was paralyzed by indecision in the process of drafting the constitution).

That's when the idea of national dialogue surfaced. The initiative was led by the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and supported by three other organizations: the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League and the National Bar Association. These four organizations make up the Quartet.

What is the National Dialogue Quartet?

The initiative commonly called National Dialogue emerged in 2012, at a time when the ruling troika, led by the Islamist Ennahda party, was facing a great deal of criticism.

Dissent and outbreaks of violence had slowed down Tunisia's transition to democracy. The idea for the dialogue coalition was born out of the desire to speed up the constitution drafting process and organize new elections promptly.

The National Dialogue sought to bring together representatives of the main political parties to negotiate agreements and circumvent challenges.

Who is behind the National Dialogue Quartet?

The UGTT spearheaded this initiative. In the fight for independence, as well as under the Bourguiba regime and the Ben Ali regime (which ruled Tunisia from 1957 to 2011), this trade union had consistently played a major political role and has established itself as a key player in Tunisia's political, economic and cultural scenes.

The UGTT later aligned itself with UTICA, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the National Bar Association to form the Quartet.

The Quartet (which has no legal status) emerged at a time of conflict and tension in Tunisia's political landscape. The fear that Tunisia would fall into the Egyptian scenario of military dictatorship also played an important role. The spirit of consensus prevailed.

The achievements of this initiative include the successful ratification of the constitution, promoting a spirit of consensus and the organization of parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2014. But it also reduced the weight of dissident voices.

Following those elections and to date, this spirit of consensus prevails, particularly after the alliance of the non-Islamist front Nidaa Tounes, who won the elections, and the Islamist Ennahda, who came in second.

A violent context

The year 2013 was particularly violent. There was an outbreak of attacks on the armed forces, attributed to jihadist groups, and two opposition politicians were assassinated (Chokri Belaïd on Feb. 6 and Mohamed Brahmi on July 25).

The leading troika, led by Islamist party Ennahda, was accused of repressing protest movements, threatening freedom of expression and the press and was deemed responsible for Tunisia's political and economic crises.

The Constituent Assembly, elected in October 2011, continued to face obstacles in drafting the constitution two years later.

In Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, whose mandate was also highly criticized, was overthrown by the army, followed by a bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, opposition to Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's new regime was violently suppressed.

After the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi

Opposition leaders suspended their activities and called for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Thousands of people protested daily in Bardo, outside the Assembly's headquarters.

Counter-demonstrations were organized by supporters of the ruling troika. Ennahda and its allies refused to relinquish power and said that a coup d'état modeled on Egypt's "could happen."

Dialogue becomes impossible

The opposition refused to engage in any kind of dialogue with Ennahda before the resignation of Ali Larayedh's government and the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. It called for the establishment of a body of independent technocrats which would be responsible for organizing new elections.

Ennahda refused to dissolve the Constituent Assembly and said it did not intend to give up power before reestablishing dialogue.

On Aug. 6, 2013, Constituent Assembly President Mustapha Ben Jafar decided to suspend the work of the country's highest institution in order to force the ruling parties and the opposition to engage in dialogue.

Faced with this stalemate, Houcine Abassi, the secretary general of the powerful UGTT union, initiated a marathon of negotiations with representatives of political parties, civil society organizations and foreign ambassadors.

Time for compromise

On the streets, mobilization was losing steam. The tensions from the streets found a place in the closed-door negotiations among various political actors.

The opposition decided it would only negotiate with Ennahda if the Constituent Assembly were dissolved and the government stepped down. But on Aug. 14, opposition leader Beji Caid Essebsi (the current president of Tunisia) organized a secret meeting in a Paris hotel with the Ennahda co-founder, Rached Ghannouchi.

In September, the UGTT offered a roadmap proposal of talks among various political actors. The opposition ultimately accepted the roadmap and waived its condition of the dissolution of the Assembly. On Oct. 25, the prime minister promised to step down under the terms of the roadmap.

After weeks of uncertainty "National Dialogue" wins

On Oct. 25, the battle had only begun: disagreements on the contents of the constitution, the makeup of the electoral body and the future head of government meant the Quartet feared failure on many occasions. Finally, in December and in January the following year, things sped up.

Opposition leaders returned to the Constituent Assembly. The Quartet appointed Mehdi Jomaa as the future head of government on Dec. 14, 2013.

The members of the electoral body were elected in early January. On Jan. 9, 2014, Ali Larayedh officially handed in his resignation.

The constitution was ratified on Jan. 26. Mehdi Jomaa's cabinet gained the support of the Assembly on Jan. 28. Its priority was to lead the country towards legislative and presidential elections in 2014.

Tunisia's victory, consecrated by the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, rewards the country behind the Arab Spring that is considered the only bright spot in a region plagued by violence, armed conflict, political instability and suppression of all forms of dissent.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Maghreb. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.