Egypt Table of Contents

It was not until the period of the New Kingdom (1552-664 B.C.) that standing military units were formed, including the appearance of chariotry and the organization of infantry into companies of about 250 men. Egyptian armies then became militarily involved in the Near East, contending for Syria and Palestine. By the later periods beginning in the seventh century B.C., foreign mercenaries formed the core of Egyptian military power. From the time Greek rule was established in 332 B.C. until 1952 A.D., the country was subject to foreign domination. Under the successive control of Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Turkish, French, and British forces, the Egyptians remained disdainful of the military. In 1951 a prominent Egyptian author described military service as "an object of ridicule, a laughingstock which is to be avoided whenever possible." He added that the military was "left for the poor and uneducated" and called it "a derisory profession commanding contempt rather than honor or pride."

Under Muhammad Ali, the Albanian soldier who governed Egypt during the first half of the nineteenth century, a conscripted Egyptian army pursued campaigns on behalf of the Ottoman sultan in the Arabian Peninsula, Sudan, and Greece. In a disagreement over the control of Syria, his army, consisting of more than 250,000 Egyptians, advanced nearly to Constantinople (formerly Byzantium; present-day Istarbal) before the European powers pressured him into withdrawing. After the deaths of Muhammad Ali and his son, Ibrahim, Egypt's military strength declined, and the country slipped increasingly under European control. In 1879 a nationalist revolt erupted over proposed restrictions to prevent Egyptians from entering the officer corps. Ahmad Urabi, an Egyptian colonel, led the countrywide uprising which was suppressed after British troops crushed the Egyptians in 1882.

The British began their era of domination in Egypt and assumed responsibility for defending the country and the Suez Canal, which were of particular interest to the British Empire. The British disbanded the Egyptian army, and recreated it by incorporating Egyptian units staffed by British officers into British commands. British regiments remained to defend the canal. To mobilize personnel for the Egyptian units, the British resorted to irregular conscription among the fellahin (peasants), who went to great lengths to avoid military service. Potential conscripts, however, could make a cash payment in lieu of service. This practice resulted in units that were staffed mostly by the poorest members of society. Egyptians who became officers were almost always from wealthy and distinguished families.

Egyptian nationalism intensified after World War I, and with certain reservations, Britain granted Egypt independence in 1922. Britain transferred command over the armed forces to Egyptians but retained a British inspector general at the top. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, however, eliminated this vestige of British control. Egypt then expanded the army, making enrollment in the Military Academy and a subsequent army career much more attainable and desirable for young middle-class Egyptians.

The Egyptian Military in World War II
First Arab-Israeli War
The 1956 War
The June 1967 War
War of Attrition and the October 1973 War

More about the Government and Politics of Egypt.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress