Egypt: first conscientious objector

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Maikel Nabil, Egypt's first openly declared conscientious objector, was due to report to military service on 22 October - but did not do so.

According to article 58 of the constitution of Egypt, "defence of the homeland and its territory is a sacred duty and conscription is compulsory, in accordance with the law". Military service is regulated by the 1980 Military and National Service Act no. 127. According to article 1 of the law, military service is compulsory to all Egyptian males who are 18 years old, and national service is compulsory to both males and females who are 18 years old, according to what is stipulated in this law.

Egypt does not recognise the right to conscientious objection. Maikel Nabil sent several letters to the military authorities of Egypt, asking for a recognition of his right to conscientious objection, and to be transferred to a purely civilian service instead. However, he did not receive a reply, and on 18 October 2010 he received a final letter from the military authorities informing him that he has to present himself on 22 October to begin serving his military service at the College of Reserve Officers.

In an interview with Ynet News from Israel, Maikel Nabil stated: "I am a pacifist, I am against bearing arms and participating in military and paramilitary organizations. Recruitment goes against my conscience. I don't want to act against my conscience, whatever the price. I also am not willing to be a pawn on the chessboard of an arms race, struggles and bloodbaths in the region. I don't want to point a weapon at a young Israeli, recruited into obligatory service, defending his state's right to exist. I think obligatory service is a form of slavery and I have worked for years for my freedom." In his declaration of conscientious objection, he wrote: "My words don’t mean that I am an evader of the military recruitment. I am rejecting, not evading. I live in the same address written on my identification card which is known to the Administration of Recruitment and Mobilization, the Military Security Forces and the Intelligence, which also is written in my letters to Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister, Heads of both Houses of Parliament and the President of the Republic. I am not hiding anywhere so the Egyptian police can arrest me anywhere and I am fully prepared to deliver myself to justice once I am being informed that I am wanted."

There is no experience in Egypt regarding treatment of conscientious objectors to military service. There is a risk that Maikel Nabil might be arrested for not reporting for military service, and could be punished with a prolongation of military service - which could lead to a vicious cycle of refusal and sentencing. However, once detained, it is also possible that charges for disobeying orders would be brought, based on the experience from other countries.

At the time of writing, two weeks after the date at which he was supposed to report for military service, Maikel Nabil was still free. However, to ignore him is not a solution to the lack of a right to conscientious objection.

Maikel Nabil is not alone. He is part of a group called the "No for Compulsory Military Service" Movement, which organises since April 2009 via Facebook, and also has an Arabic language website. The group, which has about 20-30 active members, mainly campaigns for the abolition of compulsory military service, and for replacing it with voluntary recruitment. According to Maikel Nabil, the group also has some contacts with a similar group in Syria.

Sources: War Resisters' International: Country reports and updates: Egypt, 21 July 1998; War Resisters' International: CO-alert, 21 October 2010; Lifos: Informationen är hämtad ur The Egyptian Military and National Service Law, 5 October 2006; Maikel Nabil: Letter to the Minister of Defense to refuse military service, 29 July 2010; Ynet News: Egyptian refusenik: I'm pro-Israel, 25 October 2010