When seeing the words “Arab Spring” in headlines or on the internet, the first thoughts one has might be negative. The Arab Spring did, after all, cause significant change in many countries, but it also brought about a significant amount of violence in the Middle East, perpetuated by both government and rebel forces, and it has played a significant role in the wave of asylum-seekers pursuing better lives in Europe over recent months.

What is oft forgotten is that the country in which the Arab Spring began actually maintained a relative level of civil peace whilst going through a complete government upheaval and revival. Tunisia, the North African country where the anti-government protests in late 2010 started the Arab Spring, was host to a significant number of demonstrations, some of which became violent, protesting high unemployment, inflation, corruption, a lack of free speech, and poor living conditions. This precipitated the complete dissolution of the Tunisian government, and paved way for the election at the end of 2011 that designated the individuals who would be responsible for the creation of the new constitution. In many countries, struggles for democracy and fundamental rights have come to a standstill or suffered setbacks.  Tunisia, however, has seen a democratic transition based on a vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights.

The collective within Tunisia responsible for this largely peaceful transition to a more moderate government have now been recognized for their efforts by the awarding of The Nobel Peace Prize. It might seem ironic that the recipient of the award is so closely related to a movement that has caused so much violence, but in fact, the organisations receiving the award are the ones that got together to solve the conflict.

What is exciting for us is to learn that those who helped broker peace functioned as mediators throughout the rebuilding of the Tunisian government.  As the Nobel Committee citation reads: the Quartet exercised its role as a mediator and driving force to advance peaceful democratic development in Tunisia with great moral authority.”[1]

The prize was awarded to the National Dialogue Quartet, comprising four key organisations within Tunisian civil society: the Tunisian General Labour Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

It is wonderful to see the use of the mediation get recognition at this level.  However, it is not a surprise to CEDR that these processes are being used in the Arab world. We have worked in many countries in this region over the period of the Arab Spring including Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco, and have seen the same commitment to dialogue and the use of mediation to resolve disputes in many areas of society, from the Economic courts in Egypt, to the Chambers of Commerce in Beirut and throughout Morocco. While the adoption of these consensual dispute resolution processes was new within these countries, they are now firmly embedded and beginning the slow but inevitable development into more mainstream use.Let’s hope that the award of this year Nobel Peace prize to mediators in Tunisia further accelerates the use of mediation in the region.

James South is CEDR’s Director of Global Training and Consultancy and has been mediating public and private sector disputes for 17 years. As one of the world’s most experienced dispute resolution trainers and consultants James is responsible for the development of CEDR’s leading courses in Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Management for legal and business organisations, the public sector, universities and professional bodies.