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.




SALAM ALKOM, I want to see if some one can help clear my questions, i been reading some of the posting and as i read i get more sad by the minute. My husband and i got married in Egypt last Nov/07/2008. After 10 great days of honeymoon and me getting sick (lol) i returned to USA. My husband is about to finish Univercity April 2008 and will soon after apply to Military, we are confused and dont know what to do he has an Egyptian Passport and i am an american citizen we been told many stories about the fact that he can be exempted from military if he is married to an american citizen, however khalid and i are willing to wait if he is called to serve but regardless the outcome i will like if some one can answer the following questions.

Can Khalid(my husband) travel to USA with a visa to come visit me before he goes into military.

How likely is for him to be exempted from the military if he is married to an american citizen.

If my husband goes to military how long will he have to serve before we can be together.

should i wait until his exemptation or any other descition from the military before i apply for his visa to come to usa.

and this comment that has shocked us both is it true that the military can ask us to get divorce.

i will really appreciate if some one can help me by answering us this question.


Here are answers, to the best of my knowledge:

Can Khalid(my husband) travel to USA with a visa to come visit me before he goes into military.

Very hard to do. Almost impossible, unless he has really good connections at the university, or is willing to risk his degree.

How likely is for him to be exempted from the military if he is married to an american citizen.

No exemption is provided for marrying a foreigner. He may get a reduced service duration because he will serve as a private and not as an officer though.

If my husband goes to military how long will he have to serve before we can be together.

He will probably go as a private, and that means 12 to 15 months at most.

should i wait until his exemptation or any other descition from the military before i apply for his visa to come to usa.

If the visa has a time limit after which it expires, then it is better to know for sure when he can go out of Egypt before you have the visa issued, so that it does not expire.

and this comment that has shocked us both is it true that the military can ask us to get divorce.

I have never heard of this, except from some comment on this article. That comment is perhaps by a misinformed non-Egyptian, or worse, someone misled by a past husband who does not want his wife anymore and making up lies and excuses.

The government does not have this power to impose divorce on a married couple without their consent. So, the army does not have that power either.

So, I am pretty sure this should not be something you should worry about.

Military Service in Egypt

Hi I am an American woman married to an Egyptian man. We have no problems with service time. He has already served his time. The thing is that my husband and his brother are under the impression that my brother-in-law will not have to serve in the military. I have talked about this with my husband a couple times now and my husband is positive his brother will not have to serve because we are married and I am an American. My husband's brother is happy he won't have to serve. My husband wants him to serve to get maturity from serving. My husband believed service help him mature & he wants the same for his brother. I am just hoping my brother-in-law is not in for a rude awakening next year when it comes his time to serve. Since both my husband & brother-in-law are both very positive my brother-in-law will not be serving in the military because I am an American my question is could the "laws" about serving be regional and up to the discretion of the regional minister of the Army? for example a difference between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
On another side note, I know this will be off topic any information would be appreciated. Do you have any idea where american or other foreign women married to Egyptian men can communicate with each other? It would be nice to be able to communicate with women in a simular marriage. Thanks again. Salam

Brother in law

As far as I know, your husband's brother will have to serve, if he meets other criteria (e.g. physically fit, not postponing because of university, the army has a need, ...etc.).

His brother's wife's nationality has no bearning at all and will not exempt him on its own.

This should be obvious since a man who is married to a foreigner is not exempt, so how can his brother be?

There are no regional laws for army in Egypt. They apply everywhere in Egypt.

What may be different is the army may not have a need for an entire cohort, and gives them postponement, that eventually leads to exemption. But that is not determined on a person by person basis, rather the entire eligible candidates in a particular month.

As for whether it will give him maturity or not, this is subjective and some people will agree, and other will disagree. It certainly exposes him to a different world, and can be similar to shock therapy for those who are spoiled/sheltered or those who are not very social (geeks/ners). Whether it is good or bad is subjective and depends on the case.

But it seems that he will go and serve, most likely.


Thanks for your warning but not needed. I did not meet my husband in Egypt we went there to be married so I could meet his family. We weren't tourists when we met. I am looking for women who are happily married to their Egyptian husbands and would like to talk about the meshing of different cultures to make the marriage happy & work. You know a little support for husbands and wives of different cultures that really love each other and trying to make their marriage work would be better than all those nay sayers and just telling about all the bad that has happened. Yes I know there is all kinds of bad out there. But once I would like to find some good. Someone that wants to talk about the good husband she found or the good wife he found. All these negative websites do not help the relationship between people. They only give seed to suspicion and a marriage can not last if there is not trust. I am looking for people to talk about what compromises they have done or maybe their spouse has done to make their marriage work & happy. Sorry this is way off topic. But you hit a sore spot. I am tired of warnings. I love my husband & want our marriage to work, be happy, & last for life. So a website or people that are willing to talk about how to make a marriage work & not just give up is what I am looking for. Again sorry this is off topic. Thanks for listening.

Start a blog then ...

No problem. I know where you are coming from.

Those warning sites tend to be negative, but they are based on negative experience. Gullible tourist lured by scammers who work at resorts. A slice that gives a skewed view of Egyptian society.

Since this fraud is wide spread, it needs awareness of it: tourists have to be careful and stay away from Egyptian men seeking relationship at the resorts and tourist area. This is not representative of Egypt or Egypt society, but when you are in a setting where 90% of men  around you are like that, then you need to be cautious.

Of course, this is not to say that all cross culture marriages are doomed. Far from it. If a foreigner meets an Egyptian under a different settings, then it is different. For example, post graduate student abroad, work, ... etc.

Your idea is a good one. So, what I recommend is that you go to or some other blogging site, and start a "cross culture marriage" blog, and write about your experience. Others will come and share their experiences.

Good husbands

I agree with you totaly,it's very hard to find a good web site or forum to discuss about this subject, it's always about bad egyptian man from tourist area who take advantages of older ladies. It's time us well married woman have a place to speak about good marriages, not all marriages in egypt are bad, mine is wonderful. I married the man of my dreams.We got married for the good reasons, and only after 3 years of getting to know each other.It's like anything else in life, just use your head.

Anonymous-Search on Yahoo

Anonymous-Search on Yahoo Groups for "Wives of Egyptians" and you will find a couple groups you might want to join.

Khalid-Not all your information is correct

My husband and I have been married for 9 years and I can tell you that some of the information you are giving out here is incorrect. Before you think I am one of these fools who got tricked by her husband I can tell you that I am fluent in Arabic and read all the army papers and documents myself and know exactly everything that went on.

My husband is a doctor and we married 3 or 4 years before he was called to report for army service. He could have gone for 3 years as an officer or 1 year as a regular enlisted soldier. Because I was American, they took him aside for a special investigation during which they interviewed him for 20 minutes and took a copy of my American passport. Another colleague of his who had a Sudanese grandmother also got investigated. We don't know the full extent of their investigation. I know they came and talked to our bawab's wife about us. They also called my husband's mobile once to ask him some questions. Anyway, it took 15 months and 15 days for them to complete the entire investigation after which he was given a permanent exemption on security grounds. They stamped it in his passport even and he can travel without the army paper and only the passport.

Anyway, 1 week after that he applied for his passport, and two weeks after we applied for Egyptian citizenship for me (which I got without problems 2 years later). We had talked about doing that earlier but I didn't want to increase the chances for him to be taken by the army so we waited until he was clear. 2 months later we applied for his visa to the US and then we went to the US. We stayed there until he got US citizenship and now we are back in Egypt. Recently, one of his cousins went to the army and having a cousin who is a foreign citizen apparently is one of the grounds on which you can get out of the army, but there's a catch, your foreign relative has to be willing to give you a copy of their foreign passport, and since my husband wasn't getting along with this cousin's family at the moment, he refused.

I know another American woman who has been married to her Egyptian husband for nearly 25 years. He was an officer when they met and he was doing training in the US. When she first came to Egypt they got an orfi marriage because he was not allowed to marry her officially. The army did its best to try to break them up, even pushing her to leave for 6 months. Eventually they were given a choice, either he could stay in the army and divorce her or leave the army. He chose the latter. I have known other women involved with officers more recently and it is even tougher now. They are not supposed to marry while they are in the army and if they are career officers they cannot get out until the age of 40. So women should be very careful about getting involved with an officer, it is a dead end and they are all in it just to either get out or for sex.