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Tunisia's democracy blooms as model for Arab Spring

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In Yemen and Syria, still in the throes of revolution, nongovernmental associations are still largely ad hoc and underground. And in Libya, immediate humanitarian needs and reconstruction efforts will likely trump organizations’ priorities in the short term.

New groups, new voices

By contrast, Tunisia looks well on its way to a vibrant, participatory democracy.

In the lead-up to the vote to elect a body that will write its new constitution, countless new associations worked to educate voters, enumerate the issues, and push causes.

They traveled in caravans of buses and vans across the country; they set up websites and organized meetings. Activists say they’ll keep up their conversation in the government formed by the Islamist party Al Nahda, which took 40 percent of the seats and is expected to govern in coalition with two secular parties.

The influx of new voices has impressed even the most experienced activists here. Khadija Cherif, secretary general of the International Federation for Human Rights in Tunisia, says she has been astounded by the change. “People who had never done anything before now all want to invest and play their role as a citizen,” she says. “That’s extraordinary.”

“There is a lot of cacophony. But that’s natural … and it’s fantastic to see,” says Philippa Neave, who works with local associations through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). “We had zillions and zillions of civil society associations just come out of nowhere.”

Twenty-somethings come to life

Many of the newcomers are 20-something.

After the revolution, the thousands of young men and women who had taken to the streets had two choices: go back to their normal lives or organize. Countless chose the former, returning to studies or work with a calm that has allowed the country to function despite obvious vacuums of power. But there were some who had lived the changes so vividly that they couldn’t go back – including Bouraoui and his peers. 

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