A contingent force from the United Arab Emirates holding their national flag, stand at ease on the tarmac of Kuwait International Airport upon their arrival here 23 February 2003. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: A law introducing mandatory military service for all Emiratis aged between 18 and 30 and setting up a new national defence and reserve force has been endorsed by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Emirati men who have finished secondary school or aged between 18-30 will have to serve nine months, while those who have not will serve two years. The service will be optional for women, who may be trained for nine months, regardless of their education, according to the law.

The law, which will be enforced six months from the date of publishing in the official gazette, states that citizens who complete the mandatory military service will enjoy a range of benefits, including priority for taking up jobs in government institutions and private businesses, marriage grants, housing plots and scholarships, according to the draft law. Citizens who join illegal organisations will be disqualified from the service, the legislation said.

Citizens who fail to enlist for military service without valid reason until they reach 29 years of age will face a jail term of between one month and a year, or a fine ranging between Dh10,000 and Dh50,000 or both. They will have to undergo the military service even if they exceed the age limit of 30.

Executive rules will spell out alternative services and security training where these services can be offered and terms for exemption from military service for medical or other reasons.

A committee of the Federal National Council suggested achievers who have finished secondary school and scored 80 per cent be allowed to complete their studies before joining the national service.

The law as proposed by the government set 90 per cent marks as a condition for delaying the duty until a student gets a higher degree.

The law will require all men who have finished secondary school or aged between 18-30 to undergo military service. The service will be optional for women.

Emirati men aged 17 who have finished secondary school may join national service after approval is obtained from their parents.

Working Emiratis will not be exempt and, while serving in the military, time will be added to their end-of-service and pension benefits. Federal, and local departments as well as private sector businesses will be obliged to allow their Emirati workers to enlist for military service. They also have to keep their jobs or similar jobs open for them once they complete the service. The training will be optional for women.

However, citizens who fail to join the military and reserve service will face up to 10 years in prison, according to a draft law passed by the Cabinet in January.

The Federal National Council suggested that a tougher penalty of up to 15 years in prison be imposed on offenders found guilty of attempting to avoid military and reserve duty.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said after the Cabinet passed the law national service would include military exercises, and those enlisted in the Armed Forces would receive additional security training, stressing that protecting the nation and preserving its independence and sovereignty is a sacred national duty.

Those eligible will have to report to authorities to determine their service status. The sole son of a family and medically unfit citizens would benefit from an exemption to military service. Those who sustain their parents or disabled siblings and those serving jail terms would benefit from a temporary exemption. Once the reason for temporary exemption is over, those people have to report to the authorities to undergo the military service.

Military service may be completed at the UAE Armed Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior, the State Security Service and other institutions identified by the deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The reserves will consist of those who have completed their national service and military personnel who have finished their time in the Armed Forces.

In November, Qatar’s government made a similar move approving a draft law mandating men in the Gulf country to do military service.

Under the legislation, Qatari men aged between 18 and 35 must serve in the military for three months if they are graduates, and four if they are not.

Kuwait is debating the reintroduction of compulsory military service, which had been cancelled after the Iraqi army invaded the country in 1990 and occupied it for seven months.

Compulsory military service is not applied in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman, which instead rely on professional armies in their defence.