The 20 Year Experience Yields Unsatisfactory Results Abuse of Military Service Duty [Archives:1998/33/Front Page]

August 17 1998

It has been twenty years since the compulsory military service law was enacted in 1979. Since then, some 450,000 young boys have gone through the national military service. Today, they represent Yemen’s reserve army.
But the track record of the effort has been mixed, at best. “The goal is to recruit young Yemenis, give them enhanced physical training, and at the same time create a reserve army,” says Staff Brigadier Abdullah Muharram, Commander of Military Personnel Recruitment in the Ministry of Defence. But over time, the goals were twisted and abused.
Now the government is adding to the twist and abuse. The one-year service has been extended, starting with this batch, to two years. At the same time, the government says that Yemenis who do not want to do the national service, automatically can get a waiver in return for a payment of YR 5,000 for each year waived, until a person is 32 years old, when he is taken off the list of draftees.
The government’s decision to over-do the military service is driven by 3 factors:
1) It gets a near free service, once recruits are distributed to serve, following an initial 45-camp days. Each draftee is then allocated US$ 5 a month, which is not always paid. This is known in Arabic as “sukhra” – free or slave labor.
2) Waivers of the draft are an important source of revenue. Of the 100,000 high school graduates this year, only 25,000 will be drafted. An additional 15,000 will do ‘sukhra’ teaching, and many more will seek a waiver, for a fee.
3) Holding up high school graduates reduces pressure on the labor market, where there is already an over-supply. The unemployment rate stands at 35%. It also helps reduce pressure on universities, at least for one year.
Brig-General Muharram says that as with everything else, national conscription needs re-assessment and re-thinking. “There are many positive results, and of course, some shortcomings. It is important to take stock of the experience every now and then,” he said.
Other people, especially parents, say the re-thinking should lead to the abolition of the military service altogether. They base their complaints on the following:
1) Military service in Yemen is today the concern of poor families. Influential families do not send their sons to the army. Most of them do not even seek a waiver. They just don’t do it.
2) The spirit of the military is no longer there. Actually, there is minimal military training. Even the 45 camp-days are filled with physical exercises and other chores. Continues on page 12