Rabat - Moroccan youth are eager to know whether Parliament will pass the debated bill on mandatory military service.
Rabat – Moroccan youth are eager to know whether Parliament will pass the debated bill on mandatory military service.
If passed, all Moroccan youth aged 19 to 25 would have to spend 12 months in military service unless they are exempted for a convincing reason.
Government Spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi said on Thursday, September 20, that the government would discuss the mandatory service “this week.” However, the government has given no indication that Parliament has considered it as of yet.
When a ministerial council announced that it approved the draft bill in August, it sparked confusion among the public. The only indication mandatory service was in discussion came just two days earlier in the council’s agenda.
A cure-all for youth issues
King Mohammed VI, who abolished conscription in 2006, gave a royal statement supporting the military service, emphasizing that the mandatory service would aim to promote patriotism in youth.
The statement followed the King’s continuous calls for the government to offer youth a good education and employment opportunities to fully empower and integrate youth to contribute to Morocco’s development.
The government has been touting reforms to end growing dissatisfaction and social disparities in the country.
Now the government asserts military service will “inculcate the spirit of citizenship in young people as part of a correlation between the rights and duties of citizenship.”
While some citizens described the government’s argument as not “convincing,” political analyst Moulay Hicham Mouatadid told Morocco World News that the return “to the collective consciousness of the nation is paramount, provided that the spirit of citizenship prevails over inequality and social disparity.”
Rumblings of discontent
Social disparities have caused demonstrations from the north to the south of Morocco. While the southern provinces decried a lack of drinking water in April, Morocco’s north witnessed protests against unemployment and a lack of medical facilities in the Al Hoceima province in 2016 and 2017.
Jerada, an eastern city near Oujda, also saw massive protests against risky mine work.
All the protests put the government under pressure, and the monarch expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the implementation of the development model.
Mohammed Cherkaoui, a professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C, remains skeptical that military service would solve the social crises in Morocco.
The professor commented on the government’s statement that the military service aims to “promote patriotism.” Cherkaoui told MWN the statement “remains vague and reveals a deliberate move to make one tree prevent the view of the entire forest.”
Cherkaoui speculated, “The decision remains a default tool of managing the acute crisis of Moroccan polity. While struggling with Rif and Jrada protests, controversial sentences of activists and arrest of journalists, resilient Boycott Movement, and other aspects of deepening social malaise,” he said.
According to Cherkaoui, “Certain centers of power in Rabat thought the military service could be an ‘innovative’ strategy of containing the multi-layered crisis and shifting the public discourse.”
The professor also questioned whether the bill would mitigate social inequality in the country.
Better than unemployment?
At the end of the 12-month training period, young people who completed the service would receive payment, according to Article 5 of the bill.
Article 6 of Bill 44.18 on mandatory military service also promises to reward conscripts with grades according to the Royal Armed Forces’ current hierarchy standards.
The bill may also call conscripts with technical and professional skills to fulfill specific missions within the military administration after completing the training.
But will conscription solve high youth unemployment?
A need for more transparency
For some, the proposed bill came as a “shock” rather than a way to promote patriotism in youth.
“The decision of mandatory military service is a shock to most young people because it came in an extreme manner without any discussion or participatory approach,” Abdellah Nizar, an activist, told MWN. Nizar is also a member of Morocco’s Forum of Modernity and Democracy.
Nizar’s remarks supported the arguments of Morocco’s Istiqlal (Independence) party, which called on the government to use a pedagogical approach to correct “negative stereotypes” which make the military service appear like a “mechanism for discipline and punishment or for the suppression of energies and the spirit of initiative and creativity” among youth.
The party also called on the government to communicate with people.
According to Nizar, mandatory service may bear fruit if the government issues a full package with reforms in all sectors. However, he believes introducing military service to end all social problems is not the right decision.
Patriotism or escalating conflict?
On the other hand, Hicham Mouatadid said the military service has benefits: “the honor of defending the Moroccan homeland, the contribution to peace in the world, [and] participation in the effort of the development of their country.”
He said that military service is one way to ensure “national cohesion, a formative and professional measure, and above all a duty of defense of the nation.”
Nizar agreed that patriotism entails both rights and duties and that “there can be no rights without duties.”
However, Nizar told MWN, “We cannot talk about patriotism” because Morocco lacks the “most basic rights.”
“In the democratic world as a whole, we find youth at the forefront and in the most prominent positions in all sectors because those countries provide them with the possibilities and opportunities for success and did not question their patriotism,” he said.
Professor Cherkaoui, however, sees the government’s move to re-introduce compulsory service as a mobilization for potential developments in the Western Sahara conflict.
Bringing back military conscription “presupposes a would-be escalation of the Sahara conflict, and the State needs to secure additional forces by training male and female young citizens on how to bear arms, a classical overplay of the card of patriotism,” he said.
Cherkaoui, who is also a former member of the United Nation’s Panel of Experts, added that some people believe that this “is not a far-fetched hypothesis if we consider the temporality of the decision three months before the UN Security Council decides the fate of the MINURSO peacekeeping force.”
However, Cherkaoui acknowledged that others would disagree and respond, “Various geopolitical indicators contest the validity of such a hypothesis.”
To keep youth at home
Could conscription keep more young Moroccans at home? Over the summer, many Moroccan youth attempted to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats to reach the Eldorado.
El Khalfi said on Thursday, September 20, that Morocco accounts for 13 percent of undocumented migrants who attempted to reach Europe in 2018 (7,100 Moroccans).
Pictures of potential migrants waiting for boats to cross from Morocco to Spain have gone viral on social media.
Nizar said Moroccan youth do not hate their motherland, but they leave because “the state did not provide them with the possibilities and opportunities for success.”
He believes that participation in the development of the country requires involvement and facilitation of access in all sectors.
“It is not a year in the army that will make young people grow and develop their country!” he concluded.
‘Can not this “better life” be granted to Morocco?’
On Friday, Minister of Youth and Sports Rachid Talbi Alami said that Moroccans should be able to find a better life in their motherland instead of putting their lives in danger through undocumented emigration. “Can not this ‘better life’ be granted to Morocco or are there things that prevent this?”
El Khalfi asserted earlier this month that Morocco has “great job opportunities,” emphasizing the government’s determination to fight migration networks.
Melilla’s Minister of Social Welfare Daniel Ventura said that the military service has actually caused youth emigration from Morocco to the Spanish enclave.
El Faro Melilla reported on September 22 Ventura’s remarks that since the ministerial council approved the compulsory military service bill, minors have escaped to Melilla to “evade it.”
Renowned Moroccan philosopher and researcher Ahmed Assid told Morocco World News that youth interpret the government’s military service proposal as “punishment.”
Assid is also a signatory of a statement against mandatory service, which was issued on August 25 by a Facebook group called “Moroccan Rally against Compulsory Military Service.”
The statement called on the government to give priority to education, health, culture, and employment, as provided for in Article 33 of Morocco’s Constitution.
From the group’s point of view, military service cannot help solve young people’s issues.
“It remains merely a patchwork solution that shows the inability of the state to solve basic problems,” the statement reads.
On September 20, El Khalfi said that if passed in Parliament, the military service bill might come into force as early as the end of 2019.