Qatar’s Emir has signed into law legislation governing the country’s new national service rules, which require male Qataris between the ages of 18 and 35 years old to train with the country’s armed forces for three to four months.
The passage of Law No. 5 of 2014 comes a month after the Ministry of Defense first began signing up trainees, and outlines tough penalties for those who try to dodge service.
But its provisions are also causing confusion and stress among some Qataris who are not sure how the system will work.
According to the Peninsula, during the first half of each year, the Ministry of Interior and/or the Supreme Council of Health will send the defense ministry a list of Qatari males who have reached the age of 18 years old. The ministry will then notify eligible citizens and tell them to sign up for service within 60 days.
It is not clear how or when the Qataris who sign up can find out more about the date their service begins.
In an email to Doha News, one Qatari working in the private sector expressed nervousness about the process:
“To be honest, I can’t tell if I’m supposed to enlist yet or not. It says we need to ‘report within 60 days to the authority concerned’ when we are over 18, and after the Ministry of Defense contacts us. But should I wait for them to contact me, or am I supposed to register even if I’m not entering the service immediately, or what exactly? None of it is very clear…”
He added, “I’m also a bit worried I’ll miss some deadline I’m not aware of and end up getting in trouble.”
Under the law, men must train in the military for at least three months if they are college graduates, and four months if they have high school diplomas or have dropped out of school. Those enrolled in university can delay conscription until after graduation.
Those who do not enroll in the national service program could serve from one month to one year in jail, and/or pay fines of QR20,000.
The Peninsula states that the one-month jail term applies to residents who present fake documents or have someone else go to the medical check-up in their place.
The newspaper continues:
“Anyone who deliberately causes injuries or other serious ailments in his body to skip the service and those who help or facilitate someone to escape from the service will also face similar punishment.
Those who delay joining the service until he crosses 35 will face jail 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 for not more than one month and QR5,000 fine or both.”
Men who do not undergo the mandatory national service would also not be eligible for jobs, or be granted a license to do business in Qatar.
Previously, Minister of State for Defense Maj. General Hamad bin Ali Al-Attiyah said that service would help make Qataris “ideal citizens” and that there would be no exceptions.
However, the new law outlines some cases in which Qataris could be exempt from serving in the armed forces, including:
- Students of military colleges or institutions who have graduated and completed their primary training;
- Those who have been assigned the military rank after finishing the basic training period; and
- Those who have been given an exemption according to public interest requirements or for national security considerations.
Delays can also be granted for “humanitarian considerations” if men are found physically unfit or are their families’ sole breadwinners.
Training is expected to begin with the first batch of enrollees – estimated at around 2,000 men – on April 1, in a temporary camp in Al Shamal. There, recruits will be taught how to use certain types of weapons and military vehicles.
Men who are employed would continue to receive their full salary while serving in the armed forces, and those without jobs would also be paid during training.
Qatari women are currently not required to enroll in the program, but may be subject to compulsory service starting next year. However, women would not have to pursue military training, but instead be assigned social, cultural and medical roles, officials said last month.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, the UAE is implementing similar legislation, announcing compulsory military service for Emirati men aged 18 to 30 years old, to serve from nine months to two years. The service would be optional for women.
Kuwait is also mulling a proposal about mandatory national service.