Tunisia considers alternative to mandatory military service
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/02/10
A draft bill that would allow university graduates to perform their mandatory military service in public administration offices is earning mixed reviews from ordinary Tunisians and some legislators.
Under the proposed measure, young graduates would be paid to work for a minimum of one year in offices linked to their specialisations, ANSA reported on January 25th. Tunisian authorities are preparing to present the legislation, which aims to cut the unemployment rate and make national service more palatable, to the Chamber of Deputies and Chamber of Councillors.
The new legislation could make a huge difference to people like Sami Aouinti, who graduated a year ago and is still looking for a job.
"I think it's a good idea and it may compensate for our demands for the creation of a fund to help unemployed graduates like myself," said Aouinti. "In addition, I won't be forced to hide from security patrols that look for people like me who didn't perform their military service."
Faced with many young people's aversion to Tunisia's one-year mandatory military service, authorities are forced from time to time to hold campaigns to conscript men 20 years old or older. According to unofficial sources, the army needs 30,000 new conscripts every year, but the actual number of recruits barely reaches 10,000.
Meanwhile, the number of jobless university graduates was 113,200 in 2008, or 21.67% of the total number of the country's unemployed. Last December, while presenting the 2010 state budget, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi revealed a government effort to slash the rate of unemployment among university graduates by 1.5% by 2014 and to increase the number of new job opportunities from 57,000 in 2009 to 70,000 in 2010.
Ghannouchi promised at that time to exert "extraordinary efforts" by providing for the employment of over 16,000 people in public-sector jobs, of which university graduates would have at least 70%.
A Liberal Party representative in Parliament, Raoudha Seibi, told Magharebia in a statement last week that the bill "is a temporary solution that will necessarily lead to a temporary reduction of the rate of unemployment".
"However, it will give rise to more than one problem for the young people who'll benefit from the programme, who will be temporarily employed only to return again to joblessness, together with all the associated severe psychological disorders," said Seibi.
The lawmaker added that "the status of this programme as an alternative to national service will exclude females ... and put military service outside the framework of moral duty. I consider gender discrimination in this regard to be an unacceptable thing. Therefore, we call for equality between the sexes in all employment programmes."
Jalila Ben Amor, a mother of two children, told Magharebia that the measure "comes within the framework of a comprehensive social system, the basis of which is the reduction of the unemployment rate".
"Although the new measure will play an important role in preparing the graduates, training them in professional life, opening the door for them to show them their capabilities, and giving them opportunities to find jobs, it can't in any way compensate for [missing] service in the armed forces, with all the associated positive points", she said.
Amor said military service instils "the values of citizenship in young people, enhances their commitment and ability to take the right decision, refines their skills and ensures they receive the correct national education".
As for Faicel Touati, a young man who has been unemployed since his graduation three years ago, the draft bill holds out hope.
"I think this is a chance for someone like me to cling to," he said. "It's better than nothing."
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.