Morocco brings back compulsory military service but details are scarce

About 28% of Moroccans aged 15 to 24 are not in school, in training or at work, according to the High Commission for Planning.
Sunday 02/09/2018
Addressing the youth issue. A file picture shows Moroccan Army soldiers parading during celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces.			    (AP)
Addressing the youth issue. A file picture shows Moroccan Army soldiers parading during celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces. (AP)

CASABLANCA - After hearing news of the possible reinstatement of the compulsory military service, Amine Bouhmane, 23, from Casablanca said he was worried that he would be called up.

“If I enroll at a school, will I be spared?” asked Bouhmane, who dropped out of secondary school.

Bouhmane’s case is like those of hundreds of thousands of young people who will be ordered to join the military.

The Council of Ministers, led by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, approved the reinstatement of compulsory military service on August 20 for all Moroccans aged 19 to 25 years for a period of 12 months. The measure next goes before parliament in October for ratification.

Morocco abolished compulsory military service in 2006. The revival of the policy is aimed at improving younger adults’ “integration into the professional and social life,” a statement from the Royal Palace said.

Exemptions may be granted due to physical or health issues or pursuit of further education.

Those who refuse to complete 12 months of compulsory military service could be sentenced to six months in prison.

Sociologist Soumaya Naamane Guessous said she favoured reinstating military service because it would allow the mixing of social classes as well as rural and urban citizens.

“The army works in a structural framework, which could complement the education system, which is undoubtedly deficient,” she said. “The military service will convey citizenship, civil values and social cohesion, which the youth massively lack.”

Another sociologist, Abdelkrim Belhaj, said requiring military service was part of an effort by the state to mobilise the youth to be more involved in the country’s life.

The decision to reinstate the military service came at a time violence and school dropouts among the young people are high. Every day, Moroccans post videos and photos of theft and other crimes, depicting sense of insecurity in the streets.

A lack of details about compulsory military service has drawn questions from Moroccans, including those with dual nationality.

“Its announcement has caused more anxiety, following misunderstandings, rather than enthusiasm among young people and their families,” said Belhaj.

Guessous said: “The majority of young Moroccans are out of touch with reality, isolating themselves by spending hours on social networks and chasing dreams that only exist in the virtual life.

“The army experience will teach them discipline, teamwork, social bonds, respect and interaction with each other.”

She warned, however, that conscription must be based on “unbiased” criteria regardless of people’s social background.

An education reform mandating compulsory schooling for children aged 4-16 — instead of the current 15 — has also been announced.

“We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study, in which graduates, as everyone knows, find it extremely hard to access the job market,” said King Mohammed VI in a speech August 20.

“It is not right that one-in-four youths should be unemployed, despite Morocco’s overall economic growth record. The figures are even more disturbing in urban areas.”

About 28% of Moroccans aged 15 to 24, an age group that represents almost one-fifth of the population, are not in school, training or at work and more than 40% of urban youth are unemployed, the High Commission for Planning said.

“Everybody knows that the majority of the youths who were left out or dropped out of school have resorted to violence and delinquency due to the lack of proper education and leisure infrastructure where they can exercise their skills and hobbies,” said Guessous.

“Morocco needs to find cohesion in the educational system and must close the gap between the private and public education sectors in order to create a sense of unity rather than segregation.”