Middle East

Growing up in an Egyptian military household

The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil and her father
Image caption The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil has fond memories of the Armed Forces Officers' beach club

You never really think about what kind of household you grow up in, nor do you think that much about your family.

The fact that my late father and my late grandfather were in the army was just a part of life.

My father was a lieutenant colonel in the army and retired early for health reasons.

My earliest memories are of him taking and picking me up from school in his uniform.

I remember he commanded so much respect from everyone around him. I think it was mainly his self-assured character, but I'm sure the uniform also helped.

My father was also strict - very strict.

That to me was the most affecting thing about him being an army man, more than the uniform.

His answers were firm and final, and understandably he did not speak at all of his work.


Photographs of my father's graduation from military school and hand-painted portraits of him in full uniform were a source of pride in my grandparents' house in our home town, Alexandria.

I'm sure this was the same for many families.

Image caption "The military's role in my life will always be associated with memories of my late father"

Having a son, a brother or a husband in the army was a cause for many Egyptians families to boast.

There are few institutions in Egypt that command immediate respect and admiration. The army is right at the top.

As a child I didn't know much about the army's vast economic ventures - the factories making everything from pasta to stoves and fridges and even kitchen utensils - but I did know about their beach clubs.

The Armed Forces Officers' beach club in Alexandria is where I spent so many weekends growing up.

We couldn't go in without my father as he was the only holder of the membership card.

No-one could enter without the membership card, and these were exclusive to the military.

The beach club itself was not too luxurious but it was good enough for me and my sister to have the fondest childhood memories.

The military-owned bakeries were famed for being among the best and the most affordable in the country.

My father would bring home the best cakes and pastries for us.

When we visited Cairo, we stayed at one of the big military hotels near Heliopolis.

There wasn't much I knew about Cairo as a small child except that it was a big city with no beach - which I hated - and that we stayed at a nice military hotel with a lovely swimming pool - which I loved.


The army also had housing projects for officers - big apartment blocks in one of Alexandria's prime areas.

My sister and I used to spend time in the gardens of one of the buildings playing with our cousins.

Their father was also a military officer and they lived there.

It is a parallel economy that from the outside looks extremely bizarre, but it is a way of life in Egypt.

It was a way for the army to be self-sufficient and it also provided thousands with job opportunities in a country where unemployment is a constant headache for authorities.

The Egyptian army takes care of it's own - anyone in Egypt will tell you this - and when my father had his first heart attack, he was treated in Alexandria's biggest military hospital.

I remember the gates and checkpoints we had to go through to visit my father at the hospital, including again the military membership card.

This time it was my grandfather presenting it at the gate.

It was in the same hospital that he would sadly pass years later.

Egypt has a new president now, but it is the military that is very much still in charge - they gave themselves sweeping powers just before the presidential election announcement.

Some criticise them for what they see as holding on to power, while others say that in a time of uncertainty, who better than the Egyptian army to hold the country together?

Their role in Egypt at the moment will continue to be a subject of constant debate.

Their role in my life however will always be associated with memories of my late father.