Need To Know

Here is some good news from a part of the world that needs it: A group called the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia has won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s well deserved for a group that helped guide Tunisia through some difficult times.

To understand how significant this is, it’s worth going over the history:

It’s been almost 60 years since Tunisia rid itself of France, its colonial occupier. It’s been trying to recover from that colonialism ever since, most notably during the 24 years of autocratic rule by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, that stalwart ally of the United States.

Everything changed for Tunisia (and much of the world), though, in 2011, when a street vendor frustrated with a lack of economic opportunity and the Ben Ali's world-famous corruption set himself on fire. His desperate act ignited peaceful protests that forced Ben Ali into exile.

Tunisians managed this incredible feat in the face of violent reprisals from security forces and in spite of near-total silence from the United States, which many contend chose — as it has many times in the history of its foreign policy in the region — to support stability over liberty.

Tunisia’s newly freed people then hurdled all kinds of obstacles to hold free and relatively fair elections. And then legislators passed one of the most progressive constitutions around. The country that launched the Arab Spring, inspiring activists all over the world, continued to be an inspiration long after its ousted leader was gone.

And the civil society groups that helped make it all happen are now Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Want To Know

Tunisia still faces major challenges, most notably a struggling economy and the threat of terrorism. But despite these problems, it stands out among the other countries that followed its example — for a while — during the Arab Spring.

In the other countries touched by the protests — Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain, to name a few — things are quite different today. Here is a quick rundown:

While protests managed to remove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (another US ally) in 2011 — years of tumult later, the country is back where it started, with a military strongman at the top.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed. But in his place arrived a very dangerous power vacuum, now filled with warring militias.

Arab Spring protests in Iraq caused then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not to seek another term. Today Iraq is consumed by sectarianism and half-controlled by the world’s scariest terrorist group.

Yemen was one of the promising ones. Yemeni protesters stood strong against brutal crackdowns by the longtime authoritarian regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh (another US ally). But just when Ali was on the ropes, the international community arrived to “help.” A coalition of Arab countries and the United States helped broker a deal that saw the removal of Ali, which was helpful. Unfortunately they just replaced him with Ali’s vice president, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. Now Yemen is controlled by a well-organized rebel group and Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes and a ground invasion. Yemen’s people, already some of the poorest on Earth, are suffering like never before.

In Bahrain, where peaceful protests were snuffed out by its monarchy with help from Saudi Arabia and the tacit support of the United States (it runs an important naval base there), freedom remains elusive and political prisoners languish.

And in Syria, well. We all know that things in Syria couldn’t be worse.

The Nobel committee that awarded the Peace Prize to Tunisia, that sole beacon of promise, said it aimed to inspire other countries in the region. Let’s hope.

Strange But True

There was another school shooting in the United States. At least one person is dead and three are wounded after a gunman opened fire on Northern Arizona University’s Flagstaff campus. The shooting comes a week after another one in Oregon that killed 10 people.

Here's the strange but true: Despite it all — despite the fact that the United States has seen close to 50 school shootings already this year — there remains no new government regulation or legislation to control access to firearms.