But in this Mediterranean nation of 10 million, few have real experience with these concepts. For 23 years, authoritarian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali made the decisions for them. Now that he is gone, Tunisians must figure out how to rule themselves.
Their first attempt is scheduled for July, when the country will vote on a 200-member assembly that will elect temporary leaders and write a constitution in anticipation of new elections.
Until then, a weak interim government is in place, while a coalition of politicians, civil society representatives and legal experts rush to hammer out a new electoral code.
They are getting advice from international groups, but the future is inTunisian hands.
“People now are at the time of exploring politics, exploring liberty, democracy,” said Me Chawki Tabib, a lawyer who is part of the coalition. “Now you see in the media, in newspapers, people are discussing what is the parliament, what is the presidential system, and people are discovering what it means to live in liberty.”
After watching their uprising spark similar ones across North Africa and the Middle East, many Tunisians want to make their post-revolution restructuring just as exemplary.
“In the West, many people say this part of the world is not made for democracy, that we are not ready for this,” said Ghazi Gherairi, a law professor and coalition member. “It is vital that we succeed, to show that there is no kind of contradiction between an Arab Islamic identity and a democratic state.”
With its well-educated and homogenous population, this former French colony may have an easier time launching a democracy than other nations in the region. Tunisians are proud to have been the first Arab country to have a constitution and equal rights for women, and the only one to ban polygamy. The nation wears its Muslim identity lightly: Tunis residents sip beer at outdoor cafes as the muezzin calls, and women in head scarves and robes walk arm-in-arm with women in berets and skinny jeans.
So far, at least 44 political parties have been officially registered, and 15 more have put in requests. The Islamist party, Ennahdha, one of the few political groups that existed before the revolution, is one of the country’s better known and better organized, but it is hard to predict how any party will fare.