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What prompted Arab countries to reintroduce mandatory military service?

Tuesday 5 March 2024
What prompted Arab countries to reintroduce mandatory military service?

Arab nations along the Persian Gulf have acknowledged the significance of their military, leading to the enactment of mandatory service laws, prompted by regional instability and the economic shift following the oil era.

ALWAGHT- In recent years, numerous Arab nations have reintroduced compulsory military service into their legislation. Kuwait implemented it in 2017, Morocco in 2019, and Jordan in 2020, marking the first instance of mandatory service in its history. Qatar reinstated it in 2013, and the United Arab Emirates in 2014. In certain instances, such as Iraq, public discourse surrounding mandatory service remains ongoing and has advanced to the parliamentary level.

The resurgence of compulsory military service now encompasses countries with varying human, territorial, population, and political capacities. Despite the influence of instability and heightened regional competition over the past decade on such decisions, it's crucial to note that political objectives often take precedence over purely military ones across the board.

Following the conclusion of the Cold War, compulsory service ceased in several countries between 1991 and 2011, including numerous Arab states like Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, and Lebanon.

Substantial shifts in warfare significantly contributed to the discontinuation of compulsory military service, alongside parallel endeavors to professionalize armed forces. Compulsory military service fulfills political aims by addressing unemployment, reshaping national identity, and asserting territorial control. This occurrence is not uncommon in Arab countries where armies are frequently politicized and, in certain cases, display greater allegiance to ruling regimes than to the state itself.

Compulsory military service also affords Arab governments the chance to mold the beliefs of their young citizens. These endeavors aim to instill a sense of social responsibility and patriotism, emphasizing esteemed social values and role models through official political discourse.

In this context, Andrea Cellino, a scholar focusing on Arab country dynamics, suggests that in Tunisia, the long-standing compulsory service system is increasingly utilized to counter terrorist infiltration, despite widespread evasion of military duty.

Across Arab nations, despite the widespread sanctions aimed at evading military service, the introduction or reinstatement of compulsory service has evoked diverse reactions among citizens.

For instance, according to Zoltan Barany, a specialist in Arab affairs, Qataris have responded earnestly to the draft, demonstrating consistent enrollment, whereas only half of the required Kuwaitis have registered. The crisis within the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council during 2017-2021 and its nationalist suggestions likely contributed to such disparities, compelling Qataris to regard the "nationalist call." Additionally, there's a notable shift in the practices of armies in Arab nations bordering the Persian Gulf, gradually integrating women into their ranks, even though military service for women remains voluntary across the Arab region.

Another discussion relevant to the political and social ramifications of reinstating mandatory service in Arab nations diverges from mere military-non-military equilibrium adjustment. Instead, it focuses on reshaping citizens' perceptions and interactions with military authority and, more broadly, with the government. In essence, the reintroduction of compulsory military service by most of these countries aims to underscore the conventional military landscape. Regarding this, Ranj Alaaldin, an expert in Arab affairs, contends that these governments aim to preserve power balance regarding other security adversaries.

Despite facing challenges ranging from transitional turbulence to terrorism threats, it's unsurprising that many Arab countries contemplate reintroducing compulsory service.

Morocco, for instance, reinstated compulsory service in its legislation in 2019, stipulating a 12-month mandatory military service for individuals aged 19 to 25. This decision is influenced by a combination of internal and external factors.

Iraq's proposal to reintroduce compulsory service has evoked a blend of emotions including anticipation, disappointment, and curiosity. Initially suggested by former Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in 2021, the mandatory service proposal underwent its initial parliamentary review by Iraq's Security and Defense Committee a year later, only to be subsequently cancelled by current Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

While Sunni and Shia Arab elites perceived the military as the basis of an Arab nationalist state, others, such as the Kurds, harbored concerns about its aggressive intentions and history of oppression. Iraq's armed forces experienced a manpower reduction to 20% following the ISIS invasion in 2014, resulting in an unprecedented collapse. Sixty percent of Iraq's population is under 25 years old, with an estimated unemployment rate of around 36% for this age group. Hence, the approval of compulsory military service in this country appears predictable.

Is mandatory military service in the Arab region an accomplishment or ambitious legislation?

Nearly a decade ago, three Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) nations—Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait—reintroduced compulsory military service laws. However, examining the performance and experiences of Arab countries bordering the Persian Gulf raises questions. What insights have the compulsory military service programs of these three Gulf states offered in the past eight or nine years? In a region where government authorities often enact laws top-down and authoritatively, without the constraints of elected democratic institutions, what tangible outcomes has compulsory military service legislation yielded? Are there variances in the experiences of the three Persian Gulf bordering countries in this context?

These three countries, among the wealthiest in the Persian Gulf, are places where young people anticipate the government to cater to all their needs, including employment and welfare. However, the sense of duty towards the government among the youth is minimal. As highlighted by the ruler of Qatar: "When I encounter the slogan 'Qatar deserves the best' on the streets, I remark, 'Qatar deserves the best from its sons.'"

In the UAE, it appears that the primary objective of implementing this law is twofold: firstly, to engage all citizens in serving their nation, and secondly, to address the mounting concern among Arab countries regarding the declining health standards among the young population due to a sluggish lifestyle.

In April 2018, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani enacted a fresh law concerning national service, a response to Qatar's encounter with compulsory service amidst the new security circumstances post the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council crisis. The new statute mandates all Qatari men to undergo one year of military service. Another notable development concerning Qatar's compulsory military service was the extensive deployment of conscripted personnel - including diplomats - for checkpoint duties and security during the FIFA World Cup in late 2022.

As another instance, in 2021, Kuwait permitted women to opt for military service voluntarily. Perhaps Kuwaiti authorities are optimistic that women, rather than men, will contribute to the "duty of safeguarding the homeland."

Nevertheless, none of the Arab nations approach national defense with the same gravity as the UAE, hence Abu Dhabi's earnest attitude towards compulsory service is unsurprising. In the UAE, compulsory service in the army, interior ministry, security services, or other government establishments is dictated by the High Command of the Armed Forces.

Conversely, the UAE has been involved in a variety of regional conflicts and crises in recent years, from Yemen to the Tigray Desert and the internal turmoil in Sudan, actively engaging. These involvements have escalated tensions with regional adversaries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Considering Saudi Arabia's substantial military expenditure in recent years, the UAE's move towards fortifying its military is inevitable.

Tags :

Arab Nations Persian Gulf mandatory military service Kuwait Morocco Jordan Qatar United Arab Emirates Cold War Iraq Lebanon Tunisia Andrea Cellino Zoltan Barany Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Persian Gulf Ranj Alaaldin Mustafa al-Kadhimi Mohammed Shia al-Sudani Kurds ISIS Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani FIFA World Cup 2022 Yemen Sudan Saudi Arabia

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