14 July, 2024
Close this search box.
‘My blood will go in vain’: Egyptian soldiers say their country has failed Gaza


Spread the love
‘My blood will go in vain’: Egyptian soldiers say their country has failed Gaza

Conscripts at the Sinai-Gaza border decry the Sisi government’s silence on the killing of own soldiers and inaction towards Israeli atrocities

Shahenda Naguib

Egyptian special forces soldiers deploy near the border with the Gaza Strip on 20 October 2023 (AFP)

Since the Israeli onslaught on neighbouring Gaza in October, Egyptian soldier Mohamed Omar* has felt helpless. 

Omar, 23, has served as a patrolling officer in Egypt’s North Sinai, along the border with Gaza’s Rafah, over the past year. The region is part of a demilitarised zone according to security pacts between Egypt and Israel, and only soldiers with light weapons are allowed to be deployed there.

“It is painful to know that you can help, but you are shackled and cannot help rescue your people from being slaughtered,” he told Middle East Eye while on leave in Port Said, a destination for soldiers to rest before heading off to their units in North Sinai.

“We’ve been watching and hearing how intense the Israeli bombing in Rafah is, and we see dozens of Palestinian families passing by the borders.”

Israel’s war on Gaza has so far killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Egypt, an ally of Israel since their 1979 peace agreement, has maintained a largely non-confrontational stance towards Israel since the beginning of hostilities in October, even after the Israeli army’s seizure of the strategic Rafah crossing with Egypt in May and the deaths of at least two soldiers in armed clashes with Israeli soldiers earlier this month.

“We train day and night, and repeat marching chants against the Zionist enemy, and we hear dedicated newsletters bragging about how ready the military is, but when this enemy is killing thousands of our brothers, we sit idle,” Omar told MEE.

Middle East Eye has met five Egyptian soldiers, including Omar, most of whom have demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the way the government is dealing with the war in Gaza and with the killing of their comrades on the border with Israel.

The young soldier considers himself and his colleagues “elite fighters” trained to withstand harsh conditions and fight sophisticated targets. His unit, he added, has been reinforced by more elite and well-trained units from the counterterrorism division in North and Central Sinai since October.

Omar lost two comrades in clashes with Israeli soldiers earlier this month, but their deaths have had little recognition by the Egyptian army, including its senior leadership and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, he said.

Funeral prayer held for Egyptian soldier Ibrahim Islam Abdelrazzaq in Sanhour village in Faiyum, 29 May 2024 (MEE/Sahl Abdelrahman)
A funeral prayer held for Egyptian soldier Ibrahim Islam Abdelrazzaq in Sanhour village in Faiyum, 29 May 2024 (MEE/Sahl Abdelrahman)

Amid silence from Egyptian authorities, two soldiers from Faiyum were laid to rest in their hometowns last month after dying in clashes with Israeli forces near the Rafah border.

The two soldiers have been identified as Abdallah Ramadan and Ibrahim Islam Abdelrazzaq, who were both 22 years old.

Egyptians mourn soldier killed by Israelis at Rafah border amid official silence

Read More »

Despite widespread sympathy for the slain soldiers, they have not received a military funeral or any high-level recognition, and state-linked media have not reported on their deaths.  

Omar said morale in his unit is low because of the killing of his comrade Abdallah Ramadan.

Omar serves in a different platoon than the one Ramadan served in, but he said the response of the government was disrespectful.

“How come the martyr Ramadan was not honoured and his name was not mentioned, and there were no high ranks at his funeral?” asked Omar.

“When the lowest-ranking police conscript gets killed in a car accident, they get a military funeral, and Ramadan, who fought the Zionists, gets buried secretly. What a shame!” he added.

‘My blood will go in vain’

Omar said his superiors tried to calm them down after the death of Ramadan, explaining that “the enemy is trying to drag us into this to justify the killing of Palestinians and to use this as propaganda to tell the world Israel is being attacked from all sides”.

Similar reasons were also cited to the unit where Ahmed Tawfik*, 24, is serving in the mechanised infantry in Ismailia. “The moral affairs officer told us that Egypt is pushing a ceasefire, but the Netanyahu government wants to push Egypt into a war so it continues its aggression on the Arabs and Muslims.”

Both Tawfik and Omar are concerned that if they die in action during the current diplomatically complicated situation, their deaths will be for nothing. “I am concerned that if I get martyred, my blood will go in vain. Ramadan died and not a single bullet was fired to defend him.”

Tawfik said that morale in his unit is low as soldiers have similar fears.

“The only thought that makes these men withstand the [compulsory] service is the possibility that they will die as martyrs or that they will die for their homeland,” he said.

“If the government continues to be apathetic, the soldiers will not be able to restrain themselves from firing at the enemy like the martyr Mohamed Salah,” Tawfik added.

‘There are many ways to aid Palestinians, but the Egyptian military going to war is not the answer’

– Mostafa Marwan, soldier

Last June, Mohamed Salah, a 23-year-old Egyptian police conscript, killed three Israeli soldiers and wounded two others. He was later gunned down by Israeli forces.

However, Mostafa Marwan*, 25, a medic in Sinai, who is in his final months of service, said he is praying that Egypt does not go to war. “The thousands of conscripts you see … on TV in military parades, they are not the ones who are going to fight. There are thousands of soldiers who do not know how to shoot, or to take care of a wounded fellow soldier.”

Marwan said these conscripts are trained for only 45 days in basic camp and carry weapons that have been stored since the time of the Soviet Union.

“What are they going to do in the face of a military that is supported by the strongest and most sophisticated military in the world?” the young medic said, referring to US backing for Israel. “I am not a traitor, but one has to be realistic.”

Marwan added that as a military medic he only has basic equipment even though he is a surgeon, and that his superiors are abusive and corrupt.

“There are many ways to aid Palestinians, but the Egyptian military going to war is not the answer,” he said. “I am not surprised that the blood of the men on the front was cheap, but that is the result when all Egyptian blood became cheap.”

‘Forced to serve’

While Marwan is anti-war because of the unreadiness of the military, Tamer Samir*, who serves in Cairo in an air defence platoon, believes that Egypt should intervene to help Palestinians, but that he should not be in that military.

According to the Egyptian constitution, men aged 18 to 30 must serve in the military for at least 18 months, followed by a nine-year obligation to serve if called up for duty.

Having graduated from an international private university and coming from a well-off family, the 22-year-old Samir believes his conscription does not make sense. “Individuals like me who had the chance to be well educated and know languages should not be forced to serve and fight because we can help develop the country in other ways such as business or economics.”

An end to Egypt’s leverage: Why Cairo opposes Israel’s control of Rafah crossing

Read More »

Through a powerful connection, Samir’s family was able to secure the calmer posting, where he can go home every night, and only do administrative work. “I don’t really know much about war and politics, but I am looking forward to finishing my service.”

Like Samir, a lot of Egyptians seek connections either to skip or postpone conscription, or to get their service in big cities or in the administrative or business branches of the armed forces. The result leaves many underprivileged individuals and poorly educated young men on the front, on borders, or head to head with extremist militants.

“On the frontlines and on the border, you will find only soldiers from poor backgrounds – sons of farmers, workers, fishermen, and impoverished people,” Megahed Nassar*, a counterterrorism soldier in Sheikh Zuwied, who came to Faiyum to attend the funeral of Ramadan, told MEE. 

“Abdallah Ramadan, Ibrahim Abdelrazzaq, Mohamed Salah, are all sons of poor people, and they paid their lives for the nation, and the government did not pull a finger to fight for their rights or even to defend them,” said Nassar, who is also from Faiyum.

“Most conscripts are forced to serve, are poor, have no other alternative, and do not have a connection. They go to Sinai and either fight the Israelis or the extremist militants.” 

*Names changed for security reasons.

Port Said, Egypt
Egyptian soldiers say their army has failed Gaza

About the Author