Journalist Donates Signed Copy of Tunisia's New Constitution to Duke

Tunisian journalist and activist Olfa Riahi will donate a signed copy of the new constitution of Tunisia and several books on Tunisian history, politics and revolution to the Duke University Libraries.

The libraries will accept the donation at a public event from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 11, in Room 218 of Perkins Library.  

Riahi has been at Duke taking part in a month-long Media Fellows Program in the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at the Sanford School of Public Policy. She is a political activist, blogger, investigative reporter and co-author of the book, “Le Syndrome de Siliana,” on the death penalty in Tunisia.  

Soon after she was accepted to the Media Fellows Program, Riahi thought about making a gift of the new constitution to the Duke Libraries.

“It was important to make this gift to Duke University, so that students and scholars would have a new perspective on Tunisia, which started the Arab Spring movement,” she said. “In America, people are more familiar with the events in Egypt. Tunisia is a small country, but it is where the whole thing started.”

Riahi contacted Karima Souid, a deputy in the constitutional assembly, about her idea. Souid put the matter of the donation before the assembly, who agreed and had the copy signed by deputies who wrote the constitution.

The constitution, which recognized gender equality and protects freedom of religion (while maintaining Islam as the state religion), was formally adopted in January 2014. Duke’s donated copy will be housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where it will be available to researchers.

Riahi is also donating several post-revolutionary books unavailable in the United States, as well as a few that had been censored before the revolution. They include titles written in Arabic and French on politics, history, revolution as well as graffiti and street art. Her publisher, Ceres Edition, sponsored the donation of the books.

Olfa Riahi holds the signed copy of the new Tunisia constitution. The books on the bench are the collection she is donating to the Duke Library.
Photo credit: Geoffrey Mock

“The Muslim Brotherhood has a strong network, their writers and intellectuals are famous. Their counterparts do not have the power or resources to make their voices heard,” she said. Through her work as a blogger and journalist, Riahi said, “I want to help these people, to make these other voices heard.” 

In 2012, Riahi broke the story, known as "Sheratongate," of the financial and sex scandal involving the Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem. She published documents showing the minister’s receipt of money directly from the Chinese government and bills charging expensive rooms at the Sheraton Hotel. Abedessalem is currently being tried on corruption charges.

Riahi’s participation in the Media Fellows Program at Duke was sponsored by the Duke Center for French and Francophone Studies.

(Updated on April 11,2014.)