In Depth

Nobel Peace Prize goes to Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

Democracy group is the surprise winner, beating out firm favourites Angela Merkel and Pope Francis

This year's Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to a Tunisian group for its role in forging the country's peaceful transition to democracy after the Arab Spring.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which is made up of several labour and human rights groups, was the surprise winner of the prestigious prize.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the group won for its work in establishing an "alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war".

Tunisia is the only Arab Spring state to have witnessed a successful democratic transition, with war raging in Libya, Syria and Yemen and a military coup in Egypt, The Guardian points out.

A combo of recent file pictures shows (LtoR) Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Houcine Abbassi,President of the Tunisian employers union (UTICA) Wided Bouchamaoui,

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AFP/Getty Images

Chairwoman Kaci Kullmann Five said she hoped their road-map to peace would serve as an example to be followed by other countries in the region.

Houcine Abassi, the leader of the Tunisian General Labour Union and one of the key members of the group , told AP he was "overwhelmed" by the win.

"It's a prize that crowns more than two years of efforts deployed by the quartet when the country was in danger on all fronts," he said.

The group was one of 273 institutions and individuals competing for prize, including:

Angela Merkel

The German chancellor's response to the refugee crisis and her efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine had made her the bookies' favourite to take home the award. She has opened Germany's doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution and is seen by many as the continent's moral compass. "Angela Merkel has been quite remarkable in taking leadership in a rather embarrassing discussion in the European context," Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, told Bloomberg.

The Pope

Pope Francis has been involved in two hugely significant diplomatic breakthroughs in the Americas this year: he helped restore ties between bitter Cold War enemies in Washington and Havana and pushed for a peace deal in Colombia. He has also spoken openly and passionately about a number of global issues including climate change, economic inequality, and the treatment of refugees. "His odds are improved by general popularity, a friendly demeanour and apparent flexibility on the interpretation of some Catholic dogma," said The Guardian. "But his adherence to the Vatican's line on the role of women would make him a hard sell in Norway."

John Kerry and Javad Zarif

Iran's foreign minister and the US secretary of state had been nominated for their roles in securing the historic Iranian nuclear deal earlier in July. The US and five other world powers reached an agreement with Tehran on scaling back Iran's nuclear activities in return for the gradual removal of sanctions that had crippled the economy. The deal was widely seen as a sign of hope, though some critics warned that it could trigger an arms race in the Middle East. Some commentators argued that a win for the pair was unlikely. "Let's give the deal a few years to work before we celebrate it," said Slate's Joshua Keating. 

Novaya Gazeta 

The Russian investigative newspaper had been tipped for the award for a second year running. It is one of the few Russian media outlets that is still openly critical of the Kremlin, providing extensive coverage of the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. The publication has paid a heavy price for its bravery. On the walls of its newsroom hang photos of journalists and employees who have been killed, including the famed foreign correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in Moscow in 2006. "The photos provide a constant reminder of how dangerous the most basic function of journalism – telling the truth – has become in Vladimir Putin's Russia," said The Guardian.

Father Mussie Zerai

The Catholic priest from Eritrea may not have been as well known as his fellow contenders, but many were predicting he would take home the prize. Father Zerai lives in Switzerland and acts as a one-man emergency hotline for refugees attempting to reach Europe. He answers his phone 24 hours a day and has saved the lives of thousands of people making the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean by passing on their GPS coordinated to the Italian coastguard. "When we talk about people who try to reach Europe across the Mediterranean Sea we are talking about human beings, not about numbers," Zerai told NBC News. "Human beings — like me, like you, with the same dignity, the same rights, with the same dream."  

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