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Military




Conscription

The Tunisian constitution stipulates in article 15 that: "Every citizen has the duty to protect the country, to safeguard its independence, its sovereignty, and the integrity of the national territory. The defense of the homeland is a holy duty for every citizen" President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, chief commander of the Armed Forces asserted this meaning in the declaration of November 7th, 1987: "The Independence of our country, the integrity of our territory, the invulnerability of our homeland and the progress of our people are the concern of all Tunisians. The love for our homeland, its protection and the endeavor for its development constitute a holy duty for all citizens".

The national service aims at:

  • The preparation of the citizen to the defense of the homeland.
  • The participation to the spreading of peace in the world.
  • The contribution to propaganda peace in the world.

In practice, most conscripts are drawn from depressed areas, because it is difficult for young men without a viable means of living, or ways to perform so-called alternative service, to avoid military conscription. The composition of the armed forces therefore mirror the national inequality: the officer corps mainly come from the coastal regions and the capital city, while the conscripted troops mainly come from the underdeveloped areas in the south.

The Tunisian military, a relatively small force, has never experienced difficulty in attracting adequate numbers of recruits for its needs. In the mid-1980s, according to United States government statistics, there were nearly 1.8 million males ages 15 to 49, of whom some 990,000 were considered fit for military service. Each year roughly 83,000 reached the age of 20, the age of eligibility for military service, indicating that basic manpower resources were more than adequate to meet military needs. Even with the addition of personnel needs for the paramilitary police units, manning of the ANT did not constitute a drain on the labor force. On the contrary, it was thought that any significant reduction in conscription requirements would only exacerbate the perennially high unemployment rate in the civilian sector.

Although the military has not faced any problems in filling numerical quotas, it has had more difficulty in attracting adequate numbers of technically trained personnel. The Tunisian people - especially educated citizens from the prosperous northern and coastal areas - have normally held those who volunteered for a military career in low esteem; this attitude persisted in the 1980s. In addition to the relatively low status of the job, engineers and technically trained Tunisians found the pay and benefits of the military to be less than what they could expect to attain in civilian life. Moreover, persons in these categories were able to obtain deferment if they were called up to serve under the conscription law. Although the technical competence of Tunisian soldiers was less than the high standards that the ANT expected of itself, the Tunisian military - which came from a society in which the literacy rate for people above the age of 15 was 50 percent - was considered to be among the better educated military forces in North Africa.

The Tunisian military in 1985 was built around a core of some 8,100 officers, NCOs, and enlisted men who volunteered for a military career. The regular establishment was strengthened by an annual quota of draftees, some 27,000 of whom were on active duty in 1985. The vast majority of the conscripts - about 26,000 - served with the army while over 40 percent of the regular military served in the much smaller navy and air force.

The National Service comes to mean: reinforcement of the integrity of the country, the consolidation of its development and equality between the citizens. From the age of 18, every Tunisian citizen is requested to the military census. Thus, he has to address himself to the City hall of his residence area with the following documents :

  • A valid birth certificate (delivered before the expiry of a 3 month period).
  • An identity photo.
  • A copy of the national ID card.
He must also address himself to the regional National Service office of his district to withdraw his census bill, the National Service Guidebook, and any useful related information. Citizens living abroad can directly address the Embassy or the closest Consulate to undergo the census operation.

Under the conscription law first introduced in 1959, all physically able male citizens reaching the age of 20 have been technically required to serve in the armed forces. Active military service normally has extended for one year without interruption, but students, teachers, civil servants, and certain technicians could be authorized to fulfill their obligations in stages if continuous service would interfere with their studies or occupation. A one-year deferment could be requested in peacetime by students and by those who had brothers currently serving in the ANT. Besides the physically unfit, exemptions could also be given, except in a national emergency, to those who had lost close relatives in the service of the country or to those who were the sole support of others.

Every 20-year-old citizen has to turn up to the regional office of the National Service of his residence in the previously mentioned class time indicated in his individual census bill. Through his census bill and his ID card, he would regularize his position vis vis the National Service law. The citizens who turn up to the Regional Centers of Conscription and Mobilization would undergo:

  • A medical check-up to determine their aptitude to the accomplishment of the National Service.
  • A psycho-technique test.
  • A meeting with an officer in charge of information and briefing.
Those who are fit for the military service would be conducted to new recruits instruction centers for basic military training. At the end of the basic military training, the young recruits will be transferred to military units and could follow a professional training in various specialties at Professional Training Centers belonging to the three Armies and the central corps. Situations' regularization towards the national service is carried out through one of the following ways:
  • Conscription to the military service
  • Conscription within the framework of individual assignments
  • Obtaining a deferment from the accomplishment of the national service
  • obtaining an exemption from the accomplishment of the national service
Conscription to the military service is the conscription under the flag as a soldier during one year.
  • 18-year-old citizens could accomplish the military service by forwarding a request after authorization of their tutor and agreement of the Minister of the National Defense.
  • Young conscripts to the national service could, on their request, follow a professional training in the training centers belonging to the three Armed Forces or the central corps.
Every 20-year-old citizen is able to carry out his national service within the framework of the individual assignments and so for:
  • Citizens who exercise a liberal profession.
  • Citizens who have private industrial projects.
  • Civilian servants belonging to the State, or local collectivities or public institutions.
Those called up for the military service could choose one of the two next ways of a basic military training:
  • A non-stop 21-day training.
  • An open training period: military training in the nearest military installation, Sundays by fortnight from 09am to 5pm for a 21-day period.
The deferment from the national service accomplishment could be spared for a renewable year, to each 20-year-old citizen as far as he comes under the following cases:
  • Having a brother serving in the military.
  • Be in charge of one of the following persons that because of the conscription, could be left without living resources:
    • A father temporarily unable to work for health reasons.
    • A widowed or divorced mother.
    • At least a non married sister.
    • At least a brother of less than 20 years, still studying on a regular base.
    • One or several children under judicial tutelage in which the elder is under 20.
  • Carrying out his studies in Tunisia or abroad in higher or secondary public teaching establishment or in public training centers belonging to the public sector.?
  • Carrying out his studies in Tunisia or abroad in private high or secondary teaching establishments or in private training centers, which are acknowledged by the official authorities.

    Through the years the number of physically qualified men has increasingly exceeded the number of troops the government has found necessary to train and equip. As a result, by 1985 only a third of those eligible were serving the year of active duty technically required of them by law.

    In theory, the system of conscription was designed to provide a ready source of trained personnel, but in practice it did little to enhance the capability of the ANT. Exemptions allowed to potential draftees were extremely liberal, and consequently a preponderance of illiterate young men were inducted for training and service. Moreover, most of the conscripts were separated from the ANT just when their training and experience had turned them into useful members of service units.

    As part of the program of comprehensive defense, Tunisian authorities in the 1960s sought to create a strong force of military reserves. After completing active military service, enlisted men and officers were required to become members of the reserves. Recruits were assigned to regional mobilization centers where they would be expected to report if they were called up in an emergency. Original plans had called for quotas of 9,000 reservists to be inducted annually for one year of military service. In reality, however, the reserve forces did not function effectively because the government focused its limited resources on active units. Although call-up exercises reportedly did take place, observers believed that even if a limited mobilization of reserve strength were possible, there would not be enough weapons, equipment, and support facilities to outfit and sustain the active-duty reservists.



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