Nawaat : At first, you were intercepted at the hotel and summoned to the police station. Did the officers reveal the motive behind your summons? Did they specify to which security unit they belonged?
Hicham Alaoui : At no point was I arrested. I was initially approached at the hotel by police officers who were accompanied by the general manager of the hotel. They specified they belonged to airport security (police stationed at the airport), and verified their identity when I asked to see their badges. They did not disclose the precise reason why I was being approached, but told me there was an issue regarding customs they wanted to resolve. I responded that if this was a customs issue, then they would need to search my room and possessions. During the subsequent search, I insisted the hotel manager be present as a witness to anything the police officers discovered, so as to foreclose the possibility of anyone planting suspicious materials in the room or in my possessions afterwards. Upon exiting the hotel, the police officers expected me to accompany them to the airport in a vehicle provided by the hotel. However, I insisted that I would ride with the police in their official vehicle, as I wanted to make clear that I was now under their formal responsibility in case there was any attempt on my life.
When and how were you informed about the decision to expel you from the country? Have you asked for explanations, and what response did you receive?
The police transported me directly to the airport. There, the Air France manager told me precisely that he had been ordered to reserve a seat for me on a flight to Paris. At that point, I addressed the police officers that this was a forcible expulsion, and as such this required an explanation. I insisted on official documentation verifying this deportation and the legal reasons for it. However, the police admitted that as I had committed no crime or felony, they could not provide any official documentation. I insisted that they at least verify the expulsion with an official stamp on my passport. The police responded by stating that as a sovereign state, they could make a sovereign decision. I responded by stating that while I respected their position, I was a free man and I could also make free decisions. I told them that absent any official documentation, they would need to put me in handcuffs to sit me on the plane. It was either the stamp or the handcuffs. After a 45-minute wait, they relented and stamped the passport. My last request was for the police to verbally verify that I was being deported despite having committed no crime, by putting them on speakerphone while I communicated with three outside parties. During these phone conversations, the Air France manager also corroborated the fact that I was being deported without having committed any crime. At that point, they accompanied me to the airplane, and I departed for Paris.
Do you have any idea about the involvement of Moroccan authorities in your expulsion? Have you contacted the Moroccan embassy for further information concerning your situation?
I have not approached the Moroccan authorities to find out more about my situation, and I have no idea about their involvement. I do not wish to speculate.
Some observers suggest a link between your expulsion and pressure from Saudi Arabia or the UAE where monarchies might be upset by the theme of the symposium and the content of your reflections on this theme. To what extent do you support such a hypothesis?
My intervention at this academic symposium, which was sponsored by Stanford University, was going to be centered upon the Tunisian political transition in comparative perspective, and the challenges of democratic consolidation. I have no idea about any Saudi or Emirati interference in these scholarly matters, and again I do not wish to speculate.
How does this expulsion affect your views on post-revolutionary Tunisia, free speech and academic freedoms in our country?
My views have not changed on post-revolutionary Tunisian politics. Tunisia remains the only bright spot from the Arab Spring in having undergone a democratic transition. However, these early steps have yet to be fully consolidated. By consolidated, I mean a democratic state of accountability defined by rule of law and checks and balances. In this case, I believe there was severe shortcoming, as this was the result of an executive decision that bypassed any judicial control and parliamentary oversight. I maintain that the Tunisian democratic transition is at a critical stage, and to overcome this threshold it needs more citizen engagement and participation.