Notes on Compulsory Army Service in Egypt

For full recipes, please visit our recently launched Egyptian Cuisine Recipes web site.

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.



What? Afghanistan?

Are you sure this story is correct? Does Egypt have troops in Afghanistan? If that is the case, this the first time I heard about it. As for food, the army does feed its troop well. They may not treat them well (part of the "breaking"), but they do feed them well.

Having said that, the army can recall reserves for a number of years after they do their army service. However, this happens only rarely. They are not deployed, just recalled for readiness and such.

Are you sure this is not a game to get out of the marriage?

Salam I'm married for the

I'm married for the last 18 months to an egyptian Dr. He was told he has to do his military service even though im Canadian, and it's okay we were expecting this.He was told he will be serving for 1 year, and are grateful he did not get 3 years. My question is the following, since im a foreigner can he still contact me by telephone, and can i visit him like on weekends at the military base, or will he have free time to come home? Or will all forms of communication be stopped for 1 year? what will happend during that year is what im wondering about, how to keep in touch with my husband and get news from him??Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Some things are correct others are not

I am married to man in the military, Im american and do get there breaks, I know where my husband is located they don't get food, he has to take potatoes, maccaroni, and rice and some sweets. There are only 8 of them where he is, so they take turns on who is bringing back foods.
As far as being called back, yes it is very rare unless they have some certain talent that is desperatly needed, and Afghanistan not sure about that either, haven't heard of anyone being there in the last few years. A question for you, when you were living together did you actually see his completion papers from the miltary? That would be a good start to finding out the truth. Good Luck

Military husband

hello there, I read your post and I wonder if you can help me to find some answer. I'm from america and I'm engage with military guy from egypt. He told me that he's not allow to marry me cause is a military ban, however he said that if we find the way to do it, we will...can you tell me if this was your same situation.



Hiya. I am non-egyptian.. have an egyptian boyfriend -have been in contact with and met him and his family over a period of 15 mths - four times.. and now he has been in the army for the last 3 weeks.. he is home on leave now.. and has told me that they have all been told not to have any contact with foreigners, not to meet with them and not to chat online... I had sent a letter to him via a friend in english and he said he had gotten into big trouble for this. as they are only meant to have documents that are written in arabic.. This was told to them by the security staff.. is this correct.. can they stop this contact.. what can we do.. our plans were for him to come to my country, set up a life together.. he has been drafted for one year.. can they check in anyway of OUR contact.. or is it the soldiers moral obligation that will stop our contact. am heart broken at this possibility.. pls help.

Doubt it ...

I was in the Egyptian army. I was never told such thing as to not contact or meet foreigners.

Unless times have changed (my service was decades ago), these are new rules (doubtful), or he is an officer and hence more privy to information than soldiers, then I think he may be trying to break off with you in a less than honorable way.

You must have seen other signs if my assessment is correct.

More info

Thank you so much for the reply..

I talked to a friend whose brother is in the army for six weeks, and they have a relative "in the know" and he has said if they are going to a "sensitive" area.. they are briefed on not communicating with foreigners.. ANd the consequences of such defiance of this order. But still am open minded and will watch for any other signs.. thanks again.

Again, it depends

Again, it depends. If he is a soldier, he is seldom privy to sensitive information. If he is an officer, then it depends on what area or specialization he is in, and they get "security clearance" to more things due to the nature of their work.

So, if he is a soldier, it would be odd.

It's very true, no

It's very true, no communications at all with all foreighners, except if they are married to one and only to that person. My husband is also in the military right now he has 3 months left, and he cant even talk to any member of my family or friends. He gets a few days off a month about 5 to 7 days at the most, for every 30 days served. It's been real hard, and he is not allowed a phone while he is on base, i hope that answers your question.

military .

i'm glad i found this page;
so i really don't know much about the whole Egyptian military apart from what i have been told and also read on this website. My bestfriend - boyfriend of nearly two years is Egyptian and was born in Egypt, his 24 '25 in august' he has lived in Australia for many years now, most of his life actually.

He recently got sent back to Egypt for a court case because he didn't do his service in the military, he told me they gave him two choices to either give up his Australian passport once he lands in Egypt or be arrested at the airport. I haven't heard from him yet since his arrived there and i'm really worried. I wish i knew more about all of this. I love him so much and just want him to come back home

Can somebody please explain to me what is going to happen to him, the chances of him getting out of the service and winning the court case. I'm scared for him he can't even speak Arabic, and his pretty fragile with mental problems and anxiety attacks, i don't believe his strong enough mentally, his been in and out of mental health hospitals from break downs and also heart problems and yet apparently that isn't enough to get him out of the service.