By Fazeena Saleem
Qatar became the first GCC state to introduce mandatory military service for its citizens by implementing a new law last week. The move, which makes military service mandatory for men aged between 18 and 35 years, has elicited varying reactions from citizens.
Many Qataris have enthusiastically welcomed the national service law, saying it will instil discipline in youth and benefit them. Some have also suggested that national service be made mandatory for women as well. However, some others have suggested that national service should be optional, not compulsory.
Along with the direct benefit of training youth to protect the country, national service will teach Qatari youth values such as discipline and loyalty, and teach them teamwork, time management, obedience and responsibility towards their country.
Speaking to an Arabic daily, Mohamed Ali, a young Qatari, said: “National service consolidates belongingness to the state. It makes people ready to defend the security and stability of the country. I call upon all parents to encourage their sons who are between the ages of 18 and 35 years, to join national service and take advantage of the training.”
Abdul Aziz Al Emadi, another youth, said: “Defending the nation is the duty of all citizens. National service means defending the country. The training we receive will help in building one’s personality and becoming responsible and disciplined.”
Some young Qataris also feel introduction of national service will bring about changes in the country and society. Nassser Al Abdullah, a young Qatari, said: “This is a creative initiative and the law lays the foundation for a new, promising era in Qatar, because national service itself is a school from where people learn much.”
Sahood Al Khalidi said, “National service will make the new generation take responsibility in different areas, develop their skills, and also a strong personality, to face challenges.”
Many women are curious about the national service and seem to have a desire to join, although the law does not include them in the training. Their inclusion in military service is considered vital in a country where the citizens are outnumbered by expatriates.
Dr Ilham Badur Al Sada, a Qatari journalist, said: “National service will help women acquire new skills. Most importantly, it will keep the youth united at a time when they are exposed to different cultures.”
“I suggest that some Qatari women be included in the national service for consolidating national unity,” she added.
Aaliya Alshahwani, a young Qatari, said, “If there is a chance for women to join the national service, I will be the first to join. The country needs women. Gender shouldn’t be an obstacle when it comes serving the nation.”
Another young Qatari, Aysha Alkhawther, said, “National service will have a positive impact if they include women. Because, we will learn many skills and will be more committed and confident to face challenges and defend ourselves and the nation. Protecting the country is not the responsibility of men alone.”
However, they insist that the training should respect Qatari culture and traditions.
Huriya Al Ajemy, Director of Doha Forum for Women, is of the opinion that “this will be a good opportunity for women to involve (themselves) in a new life, but the training should comply with the religion, traditions and customs of Qatar. The Doha Forum for Women is ready to take the initiative to raise awareness among women if they are included in the national service.”
A female commentator on Twitter asked, “Is there a possibility of implementing this (national service) for females next year in a way that suits their nature?”
Some citizens feel national service will be a good opportunity for them to take a break from the routine.
“I’m waiting for the day I can join national service and take a break from this routine life with TV, smartphones, and social media, watching sports events, eating and sleeping. During the training there, I can improve my fitness and learn how to use weapons. And it is good to wake up early in the morning and pray in jummah and start running,” said a commentator on a popular Qatari social media site.
However, several Qataris have suggested that national service be made optional, saying that some clauses in the law are tough.
“National service shouldn’t be compulsory. It’s a good idea to train students, but taking people from their work and business for military training is not a good idea. It should be optional, and anyone who wants to go voluntarily should be trained,” said a commentator on a social media site.
As per the law regulating national service, Qataris who fail to undergo training will not be eligible for government and non-government jobs. Also, the law specifies tough punishments for those who try to skip or delay joining national service.
Those who delay joining the service until they cross 35 will face imprisonment for not more than one year and a fine of not more than QR50,000 or both. Those failing to report for the service in one month (if he is in Qatar) or in two months (if he is abroad) will face jail of not more than one month and a QR5,000 fine, or both.
Some citizens have suggested that these regulations should be made lenient. “It is better to make national service optional instead of having tough conditions and making people suffer imprisonment or pay a fine and have their profile damaged. If it is voluntary, even people beyond 35 years will join,” said a commentator on a Qatari social media site.
“In case of delay in joining national service, a fine of QR 50,000 has to be paid. How will someone without that amount of money pay?” wondered another commentator.
However, others were of the opinion that some people will try to find excuses to escape national service. “It’s strange that people are going for a number of months for hunting, but when they are told to do compulsory national service, they give various excuses. Therefore, I hope the ministry of defence will set strict rules that will not exclude anyone besides people with specials needs,” said a social media commentator.