The Defense Ministry issued a statement, on February 10, explaining the criteria and conditions of the National Service program Defense Minister Farhat Horchani, had announced on Saturday, February 6. According to the statement registration for the National Service program will begin next week, on February 15.
According to the press release, all new recruits must meet the following criteria:
– Pass the medical examination,
– Does not exceed the age of 35,
– Have a minimum education level of Grade 6
During the yearlong National Service, the statement added: “Alongside the free food, clothing and care, youth enrolled will receive a monthly premium throughout the year of military service: 200 dinars for holders of university degrees and 100 dinars for non-degree holders.”
The National Service program, was announced as a part of employment initiatives announced on Thursday January 27, by Prime Minister Habib Essid who proposed several urgent measures including increasing annual enlistment in the Tunisian National Army from 5,000 to 30,000. When announced Defense Minister Horchani stated “This initiative, first of its kind, is part of the development projects undertaken by the department to support national efforts in the fight against unemployment.”
Beginning February 15, a campaign will be conducted “especially in the interior regions and remote areas” to provide young people with more information on this project, Defense Minister Horchani had said when announcing the initiative.
The Defense Ministry did not specify how many would be recruited into the professional army. Rather than a massive hiring drive, the program as Horchani pointed out “will allow young people according to specific criteria to perform national service before joining the national army.” The national service precondition, allows the Army to maintain a selection process in accordance with its needs and budget.
The professional army will, in all likelihood bordering on certainty, be expanded, it also appears safe to assume that the National Service program will result in careers with the criteria demanded by unemployed protesters, namely financial stability and accompanying socio-economic status. Whether the Tunisian Army will be expanded by the 25,000 Prime Minister Essid cited, remains to be seen.
However, as the National Service program does not guarantee a military career, it appears to be a repackaging of the existing conscription system. The program does allow those who successfully avoided conscription in the first place to reconsider it. The Tunisian Army, because of its apolitical history is perhaps the most respected institution in Tunisia. Despite this, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace However “even though all Tunisians, both men and women, are theoretically required to perform military service when they reach twenty years of age, less than 10 percent appear for their service voluntarily.”
Defense Minister Horchani announced the National Service program’s launch during a visit to the military buffer zone along the Tunisian-Libyan border on February 6, to announce the completion of a 250 km security barrier on Tunisia’s border with Libya.
What impact the security situation with Libya will have on recruitment into the National Service is unknown, joining what appears to be a reservist program in times of peace is one thing, it is entirely another when war clouds are on the horizon.