Late last year, the government of Qatar approved a draft bill making it compulsory for males in the Gulf state to enlist for military service for a period of up to four months.
The proposed legislation calls for compulsory military service for men aged between 18 and 35 for three months if they are graduates and four if they are not. According to the official QNA news agency, the bill, the first of its kind for the state of Qatar, serves as an intent to mobilise Qataris for the defence of the country and to ensure ‘a regular force’ that would be backed up by reservists, if necessary.
An estimated 11,800 servicemen make up the present armed forces according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Qatari government realises that it needs to reach out further in defence of their nation. Furthermore, as one Qatari official reported, ‘the aim of the military service is to get young Qataris to rely on themselves.’
This month the government of the UAE approved a draft law making it compulsory for men aged between 18 and 30 to serve in the military. The bill, which is pending formal approval by the Federal National Council, calls for all Emirati males who have finished secondary school to enlist for nine months military service. Those without a high school diploma will be compelled to serve for a two-year term.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said the guiding policy behind the bill is to ‘strengthen the sense of belonging to the nation among young people and plant in them discipline and sacrifice.’ In his official Twitter account Shaikh Mohammad added: ‘Protecting the nation and preserving its independence and sovereignty is a sacred national duty and the new law will be implemented on all. Our gains are a red line that must be protected.’
Another GCC country, Kuwait, is said to be considering drafting legislation calling for compulsory military service. Saudi Arabia, the largest of the GCC partners has not adopted such a concept yet. When Saudis were recently asked about their take on the Qatari and UAE proposed laws, this is what some of them had to say:
Mona, a housewife: ‘Good for them. I hope that we adopt similar legislation here. Our men are soft bellied and weak. Serving in the armed forces for a determined amount of time should put some muscle back in their bodies and heads. Get them to do things for themselves. This will also teach our young men and hopefully also women to start paying back dues to the country which has nurtured them and to do it in an honourable way.’
Saeed, a doctor, disagrees: ‘Why should we copy our GCC neighbours? We have a large enough force in the army and Air Force, as well as a Navy. Our National Guard force is highly trained, and we have the latest in armaments. We also have defence treaties with a number of countries. So why force our youngsters into military service when it seems the country’s needs are already met?’
Hussain, a retired professor, counters: ‘Our youth lack discipline. This is evident from their social behavioural patterns. They are also now exhibiting a disturbing trend of rudeness and lack of respect for their elders. I don’t know the reasons behind such anti-social behaviour, but a regimented and disciplined programme would do them good, not to mention the benefits it would yield to the country as a whole.’
Mohammad, an accounts manager cautions: ‘We are living today in a world where might has become right and military power is everything. Countries that have highly a developed military force exercise their rule and demand respect. They do not need to rely on anyone to protect their sovereignty form external attacks. Getting ourselves prepared for the worst eventuality is not a bad thing. Military service would do our youth good and boost the defence capabilities of the kingdom.’
Samira, a school teacher, adds: ‘We must mould our youth into responsible citizens. We need them to take charge of their lives and not be ever dependent on gratuities from the state or their families. Today their reliance on expatriates to do everything while they sit back is alarming. Self sufficiency and self reliance has been lost among the young. Also they make up some 70 per cent of the population and that is a sizable force whose energy can be harnessed positively for the benefit of the country.’
Ebrahim, an oil executive, says: ‘Why bother with compulsory military service. We already have a large defensive force. The countries that are adopting such laws have a small national population among the total inhabitants in the country and that could be perceived as a future threat. We do not have such an issue here. Let us train them into vocational professions such as electricians and carpenters instead.’
Omar: ‘We cannot forget that the Middle East has not been a region of tranquillity in recent times. Defending the nation is a patriotic duty. Compulsory military service will also help introduce a complete cross section of citizens into the armed services. In peaceful times our youth can go about with their lives. However when the moment demands, they can stand in defence for the country, and be experienced at that.’
A nation that nurtures its young should be protected at all times. And what better way would there be than providing the skills and means to its youth to do just that?
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena