This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia
There are currently 11 countries across the Arab world that have adopted compulsory military service for young men, including Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. In many cases, attempting to evade service can result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Still, plenty of men in the region are so desperate to avoid giving up a year or two of their lives to potentially fight in a war that they're willing to risk the consequences, and concoct absurd, painful and sometimes dangerous ways of getting out of serving.
I reached out to some to find out about the more outrageous ways people have avoided conscription, and heard about buckets of mayonnaise, broken arms and sudden disappearances. To protect their identities, we've withheld their full names and, in most cases, their nationality.
The Mayo Diet
"A few months before I was due to register for service, I decided to gain as much weight as I could so that I'd fail my physical fitness test and they would reject my application. I spent months gorging on as much fast food as I could – burgers, pizzas and pastries. I added mayo to everything I ate, and even had it on its own as a snack between meals. I obviously never exercised, and ate heavy meals late at night.
"I have a science degree, so I was fully aware of the damage I was doing to my body. But I never hesitated for a moment because, for me, the damage of the weight increase was a lot a more bearable than the pain of service. In the end, I gained 30kg in around six months. When registration day came, the army doctor took one angry look at me and said, 'Why have you turned up looking like this?' He then signed my rejection papers due to 'excess weight and a lack of physical fitness'."
"I was studying Business Administration at the University of Damascus when the war broke out. At the time, I had my future mapped out – I wanted to graduate and find a job in a bank or an insurance company. I never wanted to be part of this war, so with no other way out of military service, my only option was to postpone it by remaining a student for as long as possible. But in order to do that, I had to start deliberately failing. This bought me about two years, because students are kicked out if they are still failing after three extra years. Six months before the university would have dismissed me, I left the country and never went back."
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"Days before my medical examination, I fractured my arm in a minor accident. Of course I thought about using the injury to get an exemption, but my doctor explained that it would only offer a temporary reprieve.
"So I decided I would turn up without my cast on so it would look like I had some sort of congenital deformity in my arm. Removing my cast before it had fully healed was incredibly painful, and I was so scared when I made my way to the examiners. I knew I could go to prison for attempting to cheat my way out of military service.
"But, surprisingly, it worked. The cast had made the injured arm look a lot smaller than the other, so my application was rejected. I eventually recovered from the complications of removing the cast too early, and despite all the pain I had from it, I would definitely do it again."
Joined a Monastery
"I never knew that being a Christian would bring me so much luck until the day I learned that studying theology could help me avoid military service. I registered in a monastery on the outskirts of the city to confirm my commitment to studying my faith, and carried a Bible wherever I went. Being religious didn't last long, but it was long enough to get out of serving."
Faking a Sexuality
"The only option I could think of was pretending to be gay, which is forbidden in our army. On recruitment day, I turned up in more stereotypically 'feminine' clothes, a nose ring, changed my tone of voice and even my perfume. I know very well none of those things have anything to do with being gay, and I wasn't trying to be judgmental, but it's the clichéd image that people in the military would expect. I was handed over to the military police and I was put in prison for three months for being gay, but I was exempted from service. I left the country after that."
"I joined the Syrian Army in 2011. With the violence escalating and no end to the war in sight, I requested to go on sick leave six months into my service. While home sick, I asked my father to go to my military division and report that I had been abducted by rebel military groups – something that was fairly common at the time. He did, and now I’m technically among the dozens of lost soldiers."