Peace Time: January 25, 2004

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Although Arab nations often restrict opportunities for women, several of them allow women to join the armed forces. For decades, many Arab armies have had women officers and troops working in support functions like medicine, communications and administration. The example of female American soldiers in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War inspired many Gulf States to allow women into the armed forces. In 1990, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) set up a training course for female recruits. Female American soldiers helped set up the operation. Some 1,200 women applied, but only 74 were accepted. Two of the top graduates were sent to Britain for officer training at the Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst). The others were given jobs as bodyguards for female members of the royal family, or in support units (like military intelligence.) Kuwait has accepted female recruits since the 1991 war and women served in the Iraqi military. Compared to Western armed force, the number of women in Arab armed forces is small, but it is growing. And there are always far more volunteers than there are positions. 

Women play a prominent role in Arab military history, especially among the nomadic tribes (like the Bedouin), where women customarily rode horses and camels and used weapons. This is a sore point in Saudi Arabia, where the ban on women driving, and restrictions on working outside the home, are rather recent. Elderly Saudis remember that, before the oil money showed up in the 1950s, it was common for women to ride horses and camels, and to mix freely with men at weddings and other social occasions. 

Other Islamic countries also use women in the military. The Turks have had women in non-combat units for a long time, although only men are conscripted. Bangladesh just graduated it's first class of twenty female officers, two years after the army began recruiting women. 

 


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