The Moroccan government announced recently that 2019 will see a year’s compulsory military service reinstated for young men and women aged between 19 and 25, having previously dropped the measure in 2006. The decision has been proposed as a way to reduce the country’s high levels of youth unemployment, where 20 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds are out of work, twice the national average. ‘We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study,’ announced King Mohammed VI, ‘where graduates – as everyone knows – find it extremely hard to access the job market.’
Jonathan Hill, professor of international relations in the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, points to ongoing social unrest among rural youths in Morocco as another key reason why the law was passed. He cites the 2011 Arab Spring as an indicator of where such behaviour might lead if left unchecked. ‘There’s been a continuation of what was a well-established pattern of protests,’ he explains. ‘They’re not on the same scale, but the occurrence of the protests and the reasons why they’re taking place are largely the same.’ He believes that conscription is seen as a way to both generate employment for discontented young people, and create a way for the government to exercise control over potential trouble makers, who now have to adhere to strict military codes and laws.
Where Morocco’s new recruits might serve and the level of risk they might face is another matter. ‘The Western Sahara is arguably one of the most pressing national security concerns that the government has,’ says Hill. ‘But the government would have to be a little bit careful; putting volunteer soldiers in harm’s way is one thing, putting conscripts in harm’s way is another. While I think support for Morocco’s continued control of the Western Sahara is still pretty strong throughout the rest of the country, if conscripts started to be killed, that would potentially weaken and undermine public support for that continued occupation.’
This was published in the November 2018 edition of Geographical magazine
Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!