Al Jazeera documentary on Egyptian army conscripts provokes outrage

Al Jazeera documentary on Egyptian army conscripts provokes outrage
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel is on Sunday airing a controversial documentary film about Egyptian military conscripts that has already provoked outrage in Egypt.
3 min read
27 Nov, 2016
The film shows conscripts claiming ill-treatment and abuse by army officers [al-Jazeera/YouTube]

A new documentary by the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera channel about Egyptian conscripts claiming to be mistreated while serving their compulsory military service has sparked outrage among Egyptians.

The controversy began after the release of the promotional trailer for the film, where several people give their testimonies of their time as conscripts in the army, claiming ill-treatment and abuse by army officers.

The trailer also showed a man in military uniform being assaulted by other officers and forced to do house work.

The film "Conscripts" will be aired on  Al Jazeera's Arabic channel and released on its YouTube channel on Sunday night.

Military service is compulsory in Egypt based on certain criteria specified in the country's 1948 National Conscription Law.

Egyptian men with a male sibling are subject to conscription. If they have no male siblings, or if they have dual citizenship, they are exempt from military service.

The defence ministry's website says the period of conscription is essentially three years but this can be reduced depending on academic qualifications.

University graduates typically serve for one year, while lower educated men may spend two to three years in service.

Army conscripts in Egypt, particularly those with little or no education who serve in the lowest ranks, often complain of mistreatment and exploitation for free labour and services by the higher-ranked officers.

In an interview last year, one conscript told The New Arab that an army colonel asked him to wash his car. He hesitated at first, almost refusing to obey the order.

"I thought for while, if I disobeyed him, he could oppress me, so I had to agree and wash it against my will," he said, adding that the army's system depends on obeying orders, whether the orders were right or wrong.

Angry reactions

MP Mostafa Bakri, known for his close ties to the Egyptian regime, called on the public prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant for the Emir of Qatar.

In response, Abdallah al-Athbah, editor-in-chief of Qatar's al-Arab daily, slammed Bakri in a Twitter post.

Translation: Bakri is offending us and declaring war between Egypt and Qatar. All of this because of the film “Conscripts" that will be aired tomorrow? What is this frailty?

Tamer Amin, a prominent TV presenter in Egypt, slammed Al Jazeera on his TV show al-Haya al-Youm, accusing the Doha-based channel of seeking to destroy the Egyptian army.

In another response, private TV channel al-Nahar accused Al Jazeera of inciting Egyptian youth to rebel and object to mandatory military service in order to damage Egypt's national security.

Social media users noted the extreme reaction of the Egyptian media and the regime, suggesting that by doing so, they contributed to free publicity for the film.

Translation: Sisi's supporters and the Egyptian media have promoted Al Jazeera's film more than the channel did. A very stupid move.

Translation: I did not know there was a film called “Conscripts" to be aired on Al Jazeera today, but I found out about it due to the panic of Sisi's regime and security authorities.

Translation: The regime is worried ahead of airing the film "Conscripts" that reveals the military's enslavement of Egyptians. This shows that we are dealing with a fragile regime that will remain terrified until it leaves.