Moroccan cheikhs reflect on Tunisia deportation
By Mohamed Saadouni for Magharebia in Casablanca – 12/06/12
Two Moroccan salafist preachers denied entry into Tunisia in May are speaking out about their treatment.
Hassan Kettani and Omar Hadouchi were detained at Tunis-Carthage International Airport on May 15th, when they arrived to present a series of lectures on behalf of Dar as-Salam Association for Charity and Sharia Sciences in Bizerte.
Hundreds of salafists awaiting their arrival protested the move, causing a scene at the airport.
Kettani and Hadouchi were imprisoned in Morocco on charges of inciting the 2003 Casablanca attacks before a royal pardon in February.
"The Tunisian authorities initially allowed me to enter and prevented Omar," Kettani told Magharebia on June 4th, after his return to Morocco.
"I was waiting for him in the lobby leading to the arrival hall when a security officer came to me and asked for my passport again, claiming error in the procedures. He also asked me to bring medicine for Omar, who suffers from diabetes. I was carrying his medication in my bag."
Despite the inconvenience, Kettani had good words for the Tunisian authorities.
"Frankly, the security services treated us well," he told Magharebia. "They gave us dinner and asked us to come out to calm the hundreds of angry people in the reception hall."
"Truth be told, the airport authorities treated us tactfully, and an official from the Islamist Ennahda Party came and apologised," he said.
Kettani said that the security services had identified them on a list of those barred from entering Tunisia in the era of Ben Ali, and that the list had not yet been updated.
In a joint statement, Kettani and Hadouchi said that they were "surprised" by their deportation and pained by its having come from the state that started the Arab spring.
In the statement, obtained from the Joint Committee for the Defence of Islamist Detainees, they explained that in Morocco they were tried "unjustly and out of aggression" and that the rulings were "political and not legal".
"We rejoiced with overwhelming joy at the Tunisian revolution and issued a statement from inside prison in which we supported it. We thank the Tunisian people who stood with us," it continued.
"We hope the Tunisian government, for which we have respect and esteem, will set about rectifying this error," the statement read.
In a sermon at Al-Fath Mosque, Saif Ben Hussein – leader of Salafia Jihadia in Tunisia – took a different tone.
He denounced the Tunisian Interior Ministry’s decision to deport the Moroccans, saying that it showed a "lack of respect" for the salafists in Tunisia who sent them the invitation.
He told his audience of salafist supporters, some waving black flags, that they should "not look to these provocations", but should "look to the future".
Moroccan Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid on June 5th declined the opportunity to elaborate on the issue, telling Magharebia that he was aware of the issue but did not have adequate information to make an official statement.
"I will speak officially on the arrival when I get the details and background on the prohibition," he said.
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