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Egypt: Campaign Against Compulsory Military Service Gains Momentum

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

Since the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been supervising the transitional period to democracy, and its performance has come under much scrutiny and criticism. At a time when Egyptians are preoccupied with the drama of the presidential race and the performance of parliament, many are organizing themselves and speaking up about their rights. A discussion against conscription or compulsory military service is emerging.

In Egypt, males of age 18-30 years old are obliged to serve 1-3 years in the military according to their educational level and other factors. There are a few exceptions such as males with no brothers, dual nationals or for medical reasons.

A few days ago, Emad El Dafrawy declared his objection to submitting to compulsory military service and posted a video to outline his reasons [ar, with en subtitles]:

El Dafrawy also wrote a statement on his blog in both Arabic and English:

I’m pacifist and anti-militarist, which means that the military activities including holding weapons and using violence contradict my beliefs. I’m a conscientious objector to the military service. I refuse to obey military orders and I consider all wars to be crimes.

We refuse to serve in an army that kills us! Image from the No to Compulsory Military Service Movement.

We refuse to serve in an army that kills us! Image from the No to Compulsory Military Service Movement.

Emad El Dafrawy is not the first to conscientiously object to military service. Maikel Nabil Sanad was the first to take such a move and is the founder of the No to Compulsory Military Service Movement. The movement was established in April 2009 and according to a blog post by Nabil, it aims to “abolish compulsory draft and replace it by optional conscription.” In addition:

We are aiming to reform the relation between citizens and military institutions, ending any authority of militarists over civilians, deepening the civil state, and evolving qualifications, organization and standard liberties and rights in the Egyptian army.

In October 2010, Nabil issued a statement on his blog saying that he would not serve in the army and that he would bear the consequences. The following month, he was arrested from his house and taken into military custody. However, he was granted a medical exemption of military service a few days later, which said that he was suffering from a character disorder, in a possible attempt by the military to avoid further criticism.

Nabil was also the first blogger to be imprisoned after the revolution when he posted his famous post “The army and the people weren't ever one hand”, in which he documented the military's abuses and violations. The No to Compulsory Military Service Movement was revived following his release in January 2012 and it uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to campaign for their cause.

Recently, videos have been made such as “Why We Reject Military Service” [ar]:

Another is entitled “Would You Like to Serve in This Army?” [GRAPHIC CONTENT].

A debate took place on Twitter recently under the hashtag #ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ (“against compulsory military service”), and many Twitter users weighed in on the matter.

Fatma Wagdy tweeted:

@Fatma_Wagdy: ‎‫#ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ عشان الدفاع عن قضيه مش بالإجبار

@Fatma_Wagdy: I am against compulsory military service, because defending a cause can never be compulsory

Ahmed Said wrote:

@singer_twitts: #ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ لانه بيزرع مبدأ امشي جنب الحيط واوعي تعارض او تفتح بقك في الشباب

@singer_twitts: I am against compulsory military service because it encourages the concept of “don’t say no or speak up” amongst our youth

Motaz Ahmed said sarcastically:

@mezzo812: رأيي لازم يبقى فيه خدمة مدنية إجبارية لظباط الجيش كل فترة, أول مرة أشوف مؤسسة كاملة عايزة علاج نفسي لكل أفرادها ‎‫#ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏

@mezzo812: My opinion is that there should be compulsory civil service for military officers every now and then. It's the first time I've seen a whole institution in need of psychological therapy for all its members!

Ibrahim Mady tweeted:

@DrHumHum: أنا#ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ لأن الجيش مهمته حماية الوطن ، مش قهر أبناؤه

@DrHumHum: I am against compulsory military service because the army’s mission is to protect the nation, not to oppress its sons!

Mina Diaa added:

@MinaDaPharaoh: #ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ لا تعني إنك ضد خدمة الوطن أو التضحية من أجله,,بالعكس.لكن إنك تنتهك بسبب قواعد بتخدم اللي فوقك دايما يبأة دا ظلم

@MinaDaPharaoh: Being against compulsory military service doesn’t mean you’re against serving the nation or against sacrificing yourself for its sake, on the contrary. But if you are violated because of rules that benefit your superiors, that's simply injustice

Ziad Adly wrote:

@ziadadly: ليه ابناء الفقرا يترموا في الاماكن البعيدة ف الصحاري و الجبال لمدة 3 سنين .. في شرع مين؟ ‎‫#ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏

@ziadadly: Why are the sons of the poor thrown to faraway places in the deserts or mountains for three years? Under whose law?

Activist and writer Nawara Negm said:

@nawaranegm: ولما لقيت بقى ان بنات طولهم متر ونص ووزنهم حوالي اربعين كيلو اشجع الف مرة من ظباط وعساكر بقيت ضد التجنيد الاجباري‬‏ فشخ

@nawaranegm: When I found that girls only 150 cm tall and weighing 40kg are a thousand times braver than officers and soldiers, I became strongly opposed to compulsory military service

Some people had different opinions. Mohamed Hany tweeted:

@mohamed_hany87: إلى حين تعديل وتحسين ظروف التجنيد أنا ضده .لما يكون في دورة تدربية مكثفة مفيدة أول واحد هنضم ‎‫

@mohamed_hany87: I am against compulsory military service until the modification and improvement of the drafting conditions. When there is a useful training course, I’ll be the first to join

Nermeen Bedair wrote:

@Nermbed: ‎‫مش#ضد_التجنيد_الاجباري‬‏ اطلاقا.. ممكن أرفض ان المجندين اجباريا يشتغلوا في الفنادق والنوادي خصوصا انه شغل سخرة.. تجنيد يعني معسكرات جيش

@Nermbed: I am not against compulsory military service at all. Maybe I reject that soldiers are forced to work in hotels or clubs especially because it’s just slave work. Military service means army barracks!

A conscription map of the world reveals that many countries indeed have moved beyond compulsory conscription. The coming days will reveal if the Egyptian movement can gain more momentum. Already another blogger, Haitham El Kashef, has declared that he will not submit to compulsory military service. Both El Kashef and El Dafrawy may face imprisonment for three years on charges of evading military service, or further charges may be added.

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

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