Notes on Compulsory Army Service in Egypt

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Many countries have some form of compulsory Army service for a certain period, including Netherlands, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and others. In Egypt, service in the army was compulsory for most of the 20th century. It is restricted to males 18 years to 35 years who do have another male brother, and is physically and mentally fit. Those who study can have a temporary reprieve until they finish their study, to a maximum of 24 or so. The duration of the service varies from 1 year (plus 3 months training) for university graduates, to 3 years for those with only elementary education. Before 1952, service could be avoided if one paid a large sum of money to the government. After 1952, and in the name of equality, this practice was abolished, and every eligible person had to serve. On the face of it, service in the army makes a young youth ready for combat if need be, teaches him to be adaptable, resourceful and tough. Reality is much different though. The army in Egypt, just like many other countries, is the culmination of bureaucracy, favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, corruption. All of these are rampant in the government, but more so in the army.The reasons for this are plenty. Those who serve in the army are two types: the recruits forced to serve before they can hold a job, or  travel abroad, and career staff. The career staff are two classes, the higher rank army officers (Second Lieutenant to General), and the lower rank (Private, Sargeant, ...etc.). The officers are either from a technical background (medicine, engineering, ...etc.) graduating from normal technical colleges, or of military disciplines, graduating from specialized military academies. Most join the army because it is a guaranteed government job that pays a relatively good salary and pension, and comes with many perks, such as use of army clubs, percieved social status, ...etc.. The lower rank officers are mostly people from lower social levels who have no education and join the Army because it is the only hope they have for a paying job. This is true in most armies of the world, including Canada, UK, USA and others. These lower rank officers can later go up to the first few ranks of officers, but are often derogatorily called ضابط مخلة (Dufflebag Officer), because they joined the armies as private rank soldiers.Many of the permanent  staff, specially the lower rank ones, disdain the temporary recruits, envying them for having education and better job prospects. They therefore use all the tricks to make their life miserable for the duration they are in the army. Some get the sick feeling of pleasure from the misery of others. Some feel satisfaction from being able to humilate a medical doctor or an engineer. Most of this is allowed in the name of teaching discipline and absolute obedience. Others use their position and influence as a secondary source of income. For example, they would agree to give recruits extra vacation days in return for a bribe. Some of these recruits, most likely farmers with no education at all, need the vacations because they have married early and have a family to support, so they need the vacation to work.Those lucky recruits with connections can practically spend the whole duration at home, with all the paper work arranged to make them look like they have been "sent on a mission" or "on loan" to some other unit. This is reminiscent of George W Bush national guard service during the Vietnam War era, but on a larger scale.Those with no connections, and no money for bribes can only watch how cruel real life is  ... So, the army is mostly a demoralizing experience for those forced to do the compulsory service. Some reverse wisdom can be seen in proverbs and saying that are famous in the army such as:

  • "Injustice to all is justice!" الظلم لما يعم يبقى عدل This is told by officers when recruits complain of some situation. The response is to apply injustice to everyone, then it becomes justice. Of course, not even this twisted logic is true, given the bribes and favoritism that are widely practiced.
  • "In the army, you have to find a way"الجيش قال لك اتصرف. This used to mean resourcefulness, and making do with what you have. However it gradually evolved into "the ends justify the means", such as bribes.
  • "Talk only about yourself" اتكلم عن نفسك بس. A rebellion in the army is a big disaster to the chain of command. A mutiny used to be punishable by death (e.g. Fletcher Christian and the Mutiny on the Bounty). Hence, the army always do not want any kind of groups forming under any circumstances.

Of course, the Egyptian army is up to the challenge in the battlefield, no doubts about that. However, the compulsory draft system is absolutely useless, and is a remnant from another age.



Don't have much to add ...

Again, I am speculating here, and only guessing from the information you provided:

It could be that you are "exotic" (European looking) that drawn him to you. You are different from Egyptian women and men like "different".

You having a child, and then seriously ill perhaps made him rethink why he would go into this marriage, then end up with a child without a wife soon at his relatively young age.

The army in Egypt, like the government has its own clock and one can't make it go faster. Things just take its course. Perhaps a lawyer specializing in these things would help?

Egyptianfiancee stuck doing compulsory military duration

I am an Egyptian American citzen and my fiancee is an Egyptian who is serving the army currently as a private for 1 year. We heard through the grapevine that if we get married they will make him leave the army.On the other hand if they find out we also heard they could possibly take a very negative approach to the situation!I dont know what to do any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Be patient

First, they may not know you are American, since you are a dual national, and you seem to be of Egyptian descent.

Second, it is not guaranteed that they will expel him from the army if you get married, and that they know you are American.

My personal advice is to wait if it is all less than a year.

Dear Mr. Khalid I appreciate

Dear Mr. Khalid

I appreciate your advice :) But the situation is we are planning to get married in september either way, we just don't know if it is best i get married with my american passport or my egyptian one. And when we get married we are afraid of the reaction they will give us when my fiancee reports that he has gotten married. If I could be sure that they will expel him we will "ekteb elketab" at once; my fiancee is very intelligent and he had to leave his job for the army it is affecting him emotionally because of all the nepotism he is surrounded by. I wish I could be sure of any piece of information. Thanks for your time. :)

Can't give advice here ...

The nepotism is the usual in the army. Decades ago, I saw it in action, and the original article I wrote is a reaction to my memories of this nepotism, corruption and other negative aspects. In hindsight, there is also a positive side: it shows you the world as it is (warts and all), not as you imagined or wished it to be (idealistic, moral, fair, ...etc.)

As for your situation, I cannot offer any more advice other than to try to see a lawyer who specializes in these cases. He may know better what can/should be done.

Hello I have a friend who


I have a friend who told me he is drafted for two years. He is on his 45 days of training right now. I think he is going to get a holiday for some days, but who knows how for how many. Anyway, my question is; I noticed in the early comments u r only talking of service for one year or three years. But my friend is serving for two. What I know is that he went to high school and no more than that.

I appreciate your answers.

Yes, there are some who serve 2 years

If one is drafted as a soldier, then they can be in for 1, 2 or 3 years.

The 3 years is for people with almost no education (6 years of school). They would normally be laborers, farmers, and the like.

The 1 year is for people with university degrees.

People who fall in the middle (e.g. secondary school certificate or an intermediate degree, e.g. 2 years after secondary school).

Hello, Thank you for your


Thank you for your answer.

Yes he is drafted as a soldier.

I know also that he has been assigned to something called "chemical warfare".
Do you know how his stay in the army is going to be based on this. Is it going to be safe?

how long holidays can he get? is he allowed to have a phone?
As I said he He went in a couple of days ago for his 45 days of training and he was scared. and he had a hard time getting any information. Some people say this and some people say that. Nothing reliable really.

All I know is that not many get assigned to this as it was only him and another one who got this.

thank you

Not sure ...

Well, "chemical warfare" is a division in all armies, despite chemical weapons being banned (or severely frowned upon) worldwide.

It is not about developing such weapons, but it could be dealing with defense against them. For example, what kinds of nerve gas or caustic skin agents are there and how to protect yourself and others from them in case an attack happens.

Having said all that, I do not know the specifics of this in the context of the Egyptian army today, nor what a drafted soldier is supposed to do in that division. He will probably not be able to talk about it with anyone due to confidentiality rules and all that.

As for holidays, they are far apart in the initial training period. This period is a boot camp like thing designed to "break" the new troops and instill discipline into them. After the training is over he will be assigned to a unit somewhere. Depending on the specific unit and where it is, he may be able to go home every day, and get weekends off, or it could be once every month. All depends on the needs of that unit, and the rotation of shifts.

It is not unusual that there is a lack of definitive information. This is normal. Lots of talk and no authoritative real information.

Wish you and him the best ... It will all pass ...

Hi Again, Im wondering if its

Hi Again,

Im wondering if its possible for those who are drafted to receive letters from outside Egypt. and if its possible for them to send letters too.

Thank you again