As majority Muslim societies with significant minorities and dominant militaries, Indonesia and Egypt experienced strikingly similar political trajectories between the early 1950s and the late 1990s. Yet, their respective democratic transitions have seen vastly different outcomes: while Indonesia solidified its democracy by extracting the military from politics, Egypt's democratic experiment ended after only two years with the return of the armed forces to the apex of government. This article highlights the reasons for this divergence. Contrary to existing scholarship that exclusively focuses on different geographical or economic circumstances, this contribution emphasises dissimilarities in the patterns of authoritarian rule, military organisation, intra-civilian conflict and international support. Conceptually, the discussion locates the Indonesian and Egyptian cases within the broader debate on civilian control in post-authoritarian states, arguing that this discourse needs to pay more attention to the creation of intra-civilian agreements on fundamental issues of governance as the best strategy to establish strong democratic oversight over the armed forces.