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Tunisian democracy, Malaysia’s transgender laws, Cuban-American relations


Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in a country that is recognized as the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 and is a mix of civil society groups: the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
These groups aided in keeping the democratization process alive when it was in danger of collapsing. Quartet leaders served as mediators between Islamists and secularists at a time when it appeared that Tunisia would walk down the path of violence and political chaos that had engulfed the region.
According to the Nobel Committee, the Quartet had guaranteed “fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction, or religious belief.”
Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet beat over 270 candidates for the prize and came out on top over many notable figures, including Pope France and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I think this is a message to the world, to all the countries, to all the people that are aiming for democracy and peace, that everything can be solved by dialogue,” said Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh, president of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, after hearing the Nobel Committee’s decision.
On Thursday, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a ban on cross-dressing by transgender Muslims, dealing a major setback to the transgender community in the country.
The court’s decision reversed a lower court’s decision that granted Muslims the right to cross-dress, which is prohibited by state Islamic law. The federal court said on Thursday that the their rejection of the case was based on “procedural non-compliance,” as the case had not been filed through the proper legal channels.
“It is about the jurisdiction of the courts,” said Judge Raus Sharif, adding that other courts lacked the power to hear the case in the first place.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been seen as a moderate religious country, however, that image has been changing in recent years as Islamic conservatism grows in the Southeast Asia country.
Similar high-profile court cases in the past have barred non-Muslim groups from using the Arabic word for God, “Allah,” in their congregations, while others have resulted in prison sentences for acts of homosexuality.
The United States & Cuba
United States Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Cuban officials on Tuesday that the Obama administration wants to create as many business opportunities as possible in Cuba for American businesses.
“We want to make sure that you understand how our regulations work, because I think there’s business opportunity in that,” said Secretary Pritzker while touring a newly built port and economic development zone in Mariel, Cuba.
Despite the regulatory changes that have followed the United States’ and Cuba’s announcement to normalize relations, the embargo still remains, placing strict and explicit limitations on commerce between the two nations, including tourism.
Many view Cuba’s state-run economy as a barrier to increased commerce with the United States, and have argued that United States officials should not visit Cuba until its leaders formally respond to the Obama administration’s initiatives announced in December.