By Monia Ghanmi
Tunisians have a new respect for the army in the aftermath of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster.
After Ben Ali left the country, army forces were deployed in Tunisian cities to restore stability. In addition to successfully controlling armed gangs, preventing the spread of chaos and protecting property, soldiers repeatedly placed themselves between demonstrators and police in an effort to calm tensions.
On social networking sites, Tunisians posted videos showing how the people sought shelter near army vehicles to avoid gunfire. In one video, soldiers are seen pointing their weapons at security forces in an attempt to prevent them from approaching protestors.
On Monday, the head of the Tunisian army, General Rachid Ammar, addressed protestors in the Kasbah, saying that “the army will protect the revolution”.
The army’s success and its defence of the people won the respect of many Tunisians. In turn, citizens helped troops put an end to the rampant lawlessness by setting up neighbourhood checkpoints and inspecting vehicles. A new Tunisian solidarity emerged.
The friendship and respect between Tunisian army units and citizens created a desire in some youths to perform military service. In the past, conscription campaigns used to spark fear in their hearts.
Sami Mahjoubi, a young man holding a university degree in physics, has now become ready to join the military conscription centres to perform his national duty, although in the past he used to evade such campaigns and just stay at home.
“Today, I understand the real value of the army,” he said. “In the past, I thought that the weapon of science and knowledge is more important than performing the military service.”
“We were not aware of the missions that the army was performing,” he added. “I personally had no idea about the details of their work and the horizons that recruitment can open for young people, especially educated young people.”
Mahjoubi said that military service could be a solution for university graduates who were unable to find jobs.
Young people were not aware of the benefits of the army, according to Aymen Bellaaj. He said they only discovered the positives after they saw the role that the army can play to protect the country’s security and stability.
“Therefore, I’m impatiently waiting to reach the military service legal age in order to join conscription centres and perform my holy national duty, which is a duty on every Tunisian,” he said.
By law, every Tunisian male between the age of 20 and 35 must perform military service for a year unless pursuing an education, married and supporting a child, or infected with a disease. In addition, every Tunisian who performs military service remains a reserve member of the army until the age of 35.
Additionally, many young women expressed their willingness to try to join the Tunisian army.
Sarra Ben Hammouda, a final year student, called for applying the conscription law on women just as it is for men because gender discrimination in this regard is not acceptable, saying that women are capable of offering sacrifices and making contributions for the sake of the nation.
“Are the female soldiers in Europe and America better and more courageous than us?” she wondered. “I think that there are thousands of Tunisian women who are ready and enthusiastic to endure the hardships of training and perform any military action to serve their country and defend themselves when necessary.”
Her friend Asma Mtaouà added: “In fact, I was impressed by the army, the courage of its soldiers and the extent of their compassion and support for citizens. I wish to join their ranks, wear the military uniform and helmet, carry arms and help them perform their noble missions.”
While the Tunisian parliament passed an act last March to amend the military service law to allow women to serve their country, it is rarely enforced.
The new regulation clarified the need for girls to perform the military service, as per article 15 of the constitution, which states that the defence of the country is a sacred duty of every citizen, whether young man or woman.
“I believe it’s a good idea that would help support and double the numbers of Tunisian army units, which I believe are limited in number,” bank employee Nejma Lazlem said.