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.

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Comments

hi there, im married to

hi there,
im married to egyptian and european myself, my husband has to enter the army in 2days even though we are married. some people say that this is only the the training period and they see it as a testing period to see if the relation is strong enough to survive and not only depending on money and this and that. is this true? they dont give us information what will happen after this training time. does anyone know about this way thinking in the army or is there somebody who has/had the same situation that we are having now?
is there anyone with an answer???
lots of greetings

Unfounded claims ...

There are many unfounded claims in what you said.

First, the army has nothing to do with the strength of your marriage or lack of it. It is not their business nor their interest to be involved in these things. All they are concerned about is with the recruit himself, not his family.

Second, there is a training period for all new army recruits. In it, they can be away for as much as 3 months without any leave of absence for weekends, ...etc. However, in reality it depends on the specific camp he will go to, the specialization, how lenient or strict the commanding officers there, whether he has connections to any of them, ...etc.

Third, after the training, it depends on where he will be stationed. Whether in a remote area, or in the city. It depends on many factors including need, connections, specialization, ...etc. It is early to say before the training is over.
--
Khalid Baheyeldin

After you get 30....

Hello Mr. Baheyeldin,

First I would like to thank you for your answers and your informative website. I think you help a lot of people here with answering their questions about the armee in egypt.
What I would like to add for all; don`t think with a western mind. Even if there are laws in egypt about all of these things, it doesn't automatically means you really have this right. (!) In a lot of cases only connections and money matters.
Mr. Baheyeldin, could you explain in some words, what happens after an egyptian man got 30, and he didn't go to the armee, even if he had a calling to do his service, but didn't go for 2 years. What I know, is that he will have to come for the military court (is this right?) and he will have to pay a certain amount (can you tell about around how much this could be? And do you need for this also connections, means a "middleman"?). Or is it even possible, that he will have to go to jail for 1 or 2 weeks? And how long could this procedure be, starting from giving the papers to the middleman until the final stamp in the passport to be able to leave the country?
Thanks you for your reply, greetings, Masha

Yes, laws do not mean much

Sadly, you are right: laws do not mean much, unlike in the West.

Regarding the "dropouts" who did not serve before a certain age (not sure if it is 30 or more), it depends. I know several people who were living abroad until they got to that age (e.g. parent worked in Gulf countries, or were studying in the West), and for them the process is automatic, they pay a fine and get off the hook.

I am not sure if connections are required or not, but I have not heard of any of them going to jail.

This does not apply to those inside Egypt who did not serve, and are considered escapees, and could get a more harsh treatment.
--
Khalid Baheyeldin

living a broad

Hi Khaled,
thanks for the effort
I live and work in Dubai, I am 26, i got a temp exempt from the army due to supporting my mother 5 years ago, now the duration of the exemption has expired and my brother has an exemption as well from the army,
i cant go back to egypt because i won't b able to get travel permit,
I also cant stay here untill i am 30 without renewing my passport which will expire before that,
the question now is: do i need the miltary status so I can renew my passport from the council?
any other advice?

Thanks

Not sure

Not sure if you need that if you renew from a consulate outside Egypt. Call them and ask them what papers are required, and you will know for sure.

Hi my question is a little

Hi my question is a little different. If I am of egyptian descent but was born in America and have an American passport but am planning on going to egypt for about 7 or 8 months would I be able to avoid this whole army issue? I am 23 by the way.

Or is it better to get an egyptian passport as well? I currently have an egyptian birth certificate. What are the rules I need to know to make sure I dont have to serve in the army?

Yes

In theory you have to go and clear your army status, and I think they would exempt you because you are a dual citizen.

However, in practice, as long as you have a non-Egyptian passport, you can travel freely in and out of Egypt, and no one would bother you about army service.

You can show the Egyptian birth certificate to the passport officer to avoid paying visa fees, since you are of Egyptian descent.
--
Khalid Baheyeldin

So as long as I have a U.S.

So as long as I have a U.S. passport and the egyptian birth certificate then I am considered a dual citizen? Or is there somehting else I need to do to make sure I have dual citizenship. Thanks for your quick reply.

Two separate issues

There are two separate issues.

My comment about the certificate is for getting in without paying the visa. It has nothing to do with army service.

The non-Egyptian passport will be your ticket for not getting army service in Egypt, regardless of what your ancestry is. For getting outside Egypt, you use that passport. End of story. The army has nothing to do with you.

All that is from a practical point of view. What is written in laws may be different, but this is what everyone does and it works for them.
--
Khalid Baheyeldin

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