Tunisian leaders expressed their appreciation for Indian democracy and its founders such as Mahatma Gandhi and recognized India’s experience of freedom struggle as an inspiration to their country.

Elections in India turn into festivities for citizens across the country, wherever political party campaigns are taking place. The Indian media characterizes the activities around the elections as the “dance of democracy”. This may be in order, as India is known globally for maintaining its democratic politics despite facing many challenges in other sectors – social, economic, development, etc. several dictatorial regimes have been overthrown. Tunisia was the epicenter of the Arab Spring, also called the Jasmine Revolution.

The origin of the Arab Spring could be traced to an incident in Tunisia when a fruit vendor was harassed by city government officials. The poor fruit vendor, a 27-year-old Ṭāriq aṭ-Ṭayib Muḥammad al-Būʿazīzī, had borrowed money to set up his stall and was totally unable to pay the extortion (bribe) money demanded by officials. Enraged, he set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 in Ben Arous, Tunisia, which became a catalyst for the Tunisian revolution and the wider Arab Spring against dictatorial regimes in the region.
In Tunisia itself, the protests led to the fall of the 23-year-old regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali in power since 1987 had to flee the country during the mass uprising. In fact, Tunisia is the only country that has experienced a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy. The protests had spread like wildfire to other Arab countries – Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. The other notable victim of the revolution was the fall of the 30-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, although the revolution did not last long in that country. Two years later, in 2013, the military seized power, toppling the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi, the leader of a party called the Muslim Brotherhood.
In other Arab countries that have been engulfed in the flames of the Arab Spring, the protest has had various unforeseen results. Libya slipped into a civil war, saw the fall of the Gaddafi regime, and later chaos and confusion continue to haunt the country. In Bahrain, the protest was crushed by the troops sent by Saudi Arabia in support of the Sunni monarchy which reigned over the Shiite majority. In Yemen, following the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Shiite Houthi rebels took power. But the country was attacked by the Saudis. In Syria, protests have turned into a proxy civil war with President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents backed by their respective international supporters.
Coming back to Tunisia, the 2014 Constitution, the result of a political ferment, in the wake of the Jasmin revolution, provided for a sharing of power between the president and the prime minister which had to be supported by the majority in Parliament. The President and the Parliament were to be directly elected by the people. However, the election of the Islamist party Ennahda upset the progressive and secular forces. Politics remained divided. The country has had up to nine governments between 2011 and 2021. The economy was in bad shape, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic which caused one of the highest global per capita death rates in Tunisia. Faced with such economic and health crises, people revolted again in July last year.
In order to quell the unrest, Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechich and suspended parliament, plunging Tunisia into a constitutional crisis. Recall that under the 2014 Constitution, such crises must be settled by a Constitutional Court. The tribunal not being yet constituted, the president took advantage of it and assumed all the powers; appointed a new prime minister, dissolved the hung parliament earlier this year and planned to rewrite the constitution, giving him more powers. Despite its promise that the spirit of the Jasmine Revolution of bread, freedom and dignity will be retained, the proposed new Constitution converts Tunisian politics into a presidential form, reducing the powers of parliament.
Under the new arrangements, the President will have the ultimate power to form the government, appoint ministers without parliamentary approval, appoint judges and formulate laws. Worse, the president cannot be impeached by lawmakers. During the year, the president alone practically rules the country without essential checks on his powers. International observers suggest that unchecked presidential powers would return Tunisia to an autocratic constitutional order. However, indications from Tunisia indicate that the president is on a slippery slope as he receives little public support.
Tunisia’s current challenge in consolidating its post-revolution democratic gains offers the possibility of deeper diplomatic interaction with India which is, internationally, particularly in the south of the world, known for its strong credentials democratic. In addition to the usual trade and commerce, political collaboration in the mutual benefit between the countries is also in order. The internationally accepted premise is that political developments within a country fall under the concepts of “national sovereignty” and the “right to self-determination”. But these concepts have been debunked as many countries struggle for peace, justice, freedom and human rights, all enshrined in the philosophy and practice of democracy. A country and its people may need these political inputs and the support of another country to build and strengthen progressive political institutions and practices.
India has enjoyed cordial and friendly relations with Tunisia since the establishment of diplomatic contacts in 1958. Tunisian leaders have expressed their appreciation for Indian democracy and its founders such as Mahatma Gandhi and acknowledged the experience of the struggle for the freedom of India as an inspiration to their country. Several high-level visits have taken place since then. Even in post-revolutionary Tunisia, high-level visits to both countries have taken place. Bilateral consultation mechanisms exist between the two countries. They are mainly; Ministry of Foreign Affairs (FOC) consultations, joint commissions and joint working groups.
There are several other bilateral cooperations in multiple sectors. To name but a few, the Indo-Tunisian cooperation in science and technology started in October 1995. The cooperation within the framework of the India-Africa Forum enabled the support of the Indian scientific community on the specific problems of the African continent. One such agency to receive support is in Tunisia, the Institut Pasteur de Tunis (IPT), which maintains close cooperation with the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in New Delhi. In addition, India offers scholarships and training slots to Tunisian academics and civil servants.
India and Tunisia also have considerable bilateral trade, with India accounting for around 50% of Tunisia’s global phosphoric acid exports. Many Indian companies are active there. Export potential to Tunisia is increasing in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, vehicles, renewable energy, software and services. There is a considerable exchange in the field of culture. Indian artists have performed in Tunisia and Tunisian artisans have participated in trade fairs in India. International Yoga Day was celebrated in Tunis.
In conclusion, India must deepen its political contacts with Tunisia, the only country that has tried to embrace the spirit of the Arab Spring and built the democratic edifice.

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