This article neither responds nor is even remotely interested in the televised report broadcast by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera about conscription or compulsory drafting in the Egyptian army. This goes back to many reasons, but foremost because the virus only infects the body that suffers from weak immunity. I argue that the immunity of Egypt, of both the people and the army, is strong enough to counter those who want to raise controversy and feed discord while we are supposed to be united hand in hand to keep the rest of the region’s countries upright. However, Qatar accomplished now what Israel failed to do.
The states that have compulsory drafting are the states that feel most endangered, whether for internal (potential outbreak of civil wars or unrest threatening regional integration and the unity of territories) or external reasons (if the state needs to use its military to achieve its foreign policy goals that cannot be achieved with other foreign policy tools).
This issue is not related to the development or failure of states. There are many examples, some of which are non-Arab countries, including Angola, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iran, Israel, South Korea, North Korea, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.
Senior philosophers in the history of politics believed that conscription supports the strength of armies and peoples. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that the volunteer military was one of the reasons for the Romanian Empire’s collapse, as its army had collapsed due to the decline in quality and quantity of enrolled fighters. Niccolò Machiavelli upheld that opinion. When he wanted to unite Italy, he said that the unity of Italy requires that the people participate regularly in the army; otherwise, some states will be more powerful than others.
Although China does not adopt the idea of conscription in its army, it has one of the most efficient vocational training systems for those enrolled in the military. Deng Xiaoping adopted the idea of the “development army”, which transferred the most important values in the army to the labour market—namely discipline. This type of army allows illiterate soldiers to learn reading and writing during their conscription service. Some soldiers join the armed forces without having a profession, and the army teaches them new professions. Some soldiers join the armed forces without adequate professional training, and the armed forces develop their professional skills, which benefits both sides.
Most of the countries that have abandoned conscription did that as a result of the stability of their borders and joining international or regional alliances, such as NATO, or joining bilateral or collective alliances with bigger powers. Both cases do not apply to Egypt.
The primary drawback of conscription during peaceful times is the high economic cost. Hence, the army allocates part of the soldiers for working in the business sector to gain economic returns. However, Egypt is not witnessing a peaceful time due to the ongoing terrorism within its borders.
As long as Israel, Iran, and Turkey adopt conscription, there is no room for Egypt to cancel this policy.
My best regards to all soldiers and officers, and all those who served and will serve the army and the people of this good country.
Moataz Bellah Abdel-Fattah is an Egyptian professor of political science. He previously served as adviser to the prime minister of Egypt, and professor of political science at both Cairo University and Central Michigan University.