A method of conciliation in Tunisia

As Tunisian Order of Lawyers President Muhammad Fadil Mahfud explained, it wasn’t a walk in the park to bring together political parties with diverse political programs and huge differences. The Ennahda Movement had been in power for about two years and the Nidaa Tounes party and other parties had virtually united against it. The Ennahda government was legitimate, as it had come to power democratically. However, having overthrown a strong autocratic administration, many groups not only sought to get their voices heard, but also ensure their demands and programs are represented in the administration.

Political parties and civil society organizations are sociological structures. It is impossible to suppress political or civil movements, sects, religious communities or groups using legal measures; being under duress does not mean that they are destroyed or that they have abandoned their views or demands.

What had drawn me to the idea that a political union could be formed and the public sphere arranged through conciliation or contracts within the framework of the Charter of Medina — an agreement drafted by the Prophet Muhammad as a formal agreement between him and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews and pagans — is the sociological nature of political and civil movements. Given the impossibility of destroying or suppressing sociological elements, the best way is to establish a “contractual society” in which everyone can maintain their creedal, social and political existence without attempting to attain absolute domination over others.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet started by forming a national conciliation and dialogue commission based on four principles: (a) determination to reach an agreement, (b) readiness to make compromises, (c) mutual negotiation and (d) patience. Their departure point was this: As no political force can shape the country or society alone, we are obliged to come to terms and make a compromise in order to avert domestic conflict or a new repressive regime. For conciliation or consensus, the parties involved have to make concessions. Mutual negotiation, discussion and bargaining should be employed in building a country or society. In this process, the parties involved should not only tolerate each other, but also be patient until they attain their ultimate goal peacefully.

Civil society organizations and political parties were the two pillars of the conciliation that would be attained through dialogue and consensus. This was achieved to a certain extent, and Tunisia was saved from a bloody coup d’état as occurred in Egypt, as well as from a civil war as is the case in Syria.

I was excited to hear about this method. The method I developed through my studies on the holy Quran, the Prophet’s traditions (hadith), and the Charter of Medina for establishing the political unity and regulating the public life is based on three principles: making acquaintance, negotiating and making a covenant. In the first place, the parties involved should get acquainted with each other. In the second phase, they express their views, demands and visions, and negotiate with each other over them. In the final stage, they make a civil, social or political/legal contract. The world will eventually get tired of conflicts and head toward this method. It may eventually break up, but it is quite significant that this model worked in Tunisia, albeit on a small scale.