Some definitional clarification is in order when viewing events in Egypt. A coup is the overthrow of a regime by the military. A putsch is the involuntary removal of government leaders within an extant regime. Neither is a revolution, even if occurring within the context of mass protest. Thus what has occurred (so far) in Egypt is neither revolutionary or a coup. It is a putsch carried out within a context of social unrest and mass mobilisation. It is a forced internal reconfiguration of the military-dominated regime that has been in power one way or another for over thirty years, and it has been carried out precisely to maintain the regime in the face of popular protests that centred on Hosni Mubarak but which do not challenge the military’s primacy in Egyptian politics.
The removal of an individual in a military putsch is NOT a democratic revolution, even if the masses rejoice. It is an internal transfer of power that may or may not lead to regime liberalization, which itself does not imply a genuine move towards democracy. It will be interesting to see if internal reconfiguration of the Egyptian regime leads to significant reform over the long term. Foreign pressure will not play a decisive role in the military calculations on whether to reform, retrench or repress. That will be a function of inter-elite bargaining and the organisational strength and practical demands of the opposition. But one thing is sure: due to issues of corporate self-interest and professional autonomy, the Egyptian military has no interest in exercising long-term control over the governmental apparatus. Instead, its interest lies in overseeing the conditions leading to the September 2011 elections, with the primary objective being maintenance of social stability, resumed economic growth and geopolitical continuity no matter who wins the presidency and parliamentary majority.
That is the bottom line of the Egyptian “transition.”
You are a pedant you really are
So if a coup is explicitly a military takeover is the term “military coup” redundant?
Also, Brooker wrote extensively on what he termed “political coups”. Was he using a misnomer and if so, shat should he have called them?
IMO it’s neither, the army/military position was to refuse to confront their own people with force and to accept whatever concessions the Mubarak/Suleiman regime gave the protestors – this to remain nuetral.
They did not want to own the burden of occupation – managing regime change.
The impasse came when the protestors would accept nothing less than either the end of emergency powers (fearing a lack of safety if they left the street with these powers intact) or the removal of the political faction of the regime.
The regime transferred power to Suleiman and offered to end emergency powers once the protestors left the streets – but there was not enough trust in the “regime” for this.
So the regime handed power to the army council – not so much a putsch as handing governing/deciding authority to a group which still held the peoples trust.
So I see it as neither a putsch or a revolution but a case of managed consent between government and people. The army council is entrusted to fulfill the outgoing regimes promises to the people.
Coups involve the use or threat of armed force, and result in regime change (which is more than government change). The military may or may not take the lead in removing the old regime but a shift of both incumbents and the rules of the game, as well as policy outcomes, is the result. A putsch involves government change within the regime.
Booker’s definition would cover both regime and government change that result from putsch’s. That blurs the line between the two very different types of change although both are clearly political.
Pdogge: I assume that you believe that ignorance is bliss, and by that token you must be extremely blissful. If you pull your head out you will realise this: conceptual precision is required so as to avoid interpretive errors or misidentification. That has more than academic importance.
The military leadership and Mubarak had been at loggerheads for months over the issue of leadership succession come September (Mubarak wanted his son Gamal to be his successor in rigged elections, the military wanted a recently retired officer). The demonstrations played into that scenario and gave the military elite the excuse it needed to push Mubarak out because popular anger was focused on him, not them. The past week has been about the timing and circumstances of his departure–he wanted to stay until September even if his decision-making power was removed from him (as he said in his speech two nights ago). The military watched the popular reaction to his speech and realised that it was best that he go sooner. So he did, at their demand. The fate of one individual cannot be allowed to become intertwined with the fate of the regime, and so it was not. Thus, I do not believe that popular protests brought down Mubarak. They just hastened his exit.
The problem for the military is that it needs a political vehicle for the reproduction of the regime. The New Democratic Party is too closely identified with Mubarak to serve that purpose any more, so a new civilian-fronted party needs to be established that will maintain the military primacy, behind the scenes, in Egyptian politics. That is the big task at hand for the newly installed government leaders, who are all known as “traditionalists” rather than reformers. The problem is that the Sept elections put an immediate due date on the establishment of such a party, which may force the military to postpone the elections under the excuse of drawing up a new constitution that will allow more freedom of association and movement to opposition groups–but not so much that they could actually force regime change.
I foresee a form of limited democracy down the road, one with a less personalist regime leadership (i.e. more rotation in the presidential office), perhaps with a more coalitional character in which moderate opposition can participate in government as minority members, but with limitations on political competition under conditions of universal adult suffrage. It may not be ideal but it will be an incremental advance over what has existed thus far.
I shall leave for another time the influence of US military training on the current crop of Egyptian officers, particularly those at junior flag and senior field rank whose professionalism and orientation is quite different than that of the Soviet-era cadres who were Mubarak’s military cohort and who are now passing from the scene. One thing this shift to close military-to-military ties with the US has done is diminish the possibility that a) the military will want to remain in overt government control for very long; and b) that they would see Israel as a strategic threat or allow future civilian government leaders to construe Israel as a threat.
All of which will make the political maneuvering and machinations of the next few months quite fascinating to observe.
Yeah sure, given the dichotomy between the public level perception of events (the military being trusted by the people to deliver on the promises made by those they did not trust) and the less visible machinations of the military and their perception of the world, it’s an interesting “current event” to follow as it plays out.
Ironically, the protestors may have been better off waiting for the political regime to end emergency powers (and then leaving the street), rather than allowing the military to takeover while they remain in place.
But I suspect they will work out the game that is being played and then the army/military will really have a burden of occupation on their hands. Will they dare use emergency powers vs those communicating by public media, and if not can they resist a campaign to deliver a civilian constitution and a non political police and new elections by September?
Why do you believe that foreign pressure will not play a decisive role?
This could only be the case in two scenarios. Firstly, were foreign actors just not that interested and happy to let events run their course. I doubt this very much. The sole superpower clearly has both the ability and the willingness to influence events in that part of the world. Granted, they may not appear overly concerned with what form the new Egyptian regime will eventually take, but they do seem particularly concerned that it maintain the cold peace with Israel. If things looked like evolving in the opposite way, they would surely intervene and try to influence the situation as best they could. Which brings me to the second, scenario…
Foreign pressure is simply not necessary. The Egyptian military will act in such a way that benefits the superpower, without needing to be pressurised into doing so. Based on your identification of ‘geopolitical continuity’ as a key objective of the military, and your comments above about the outlook of officers in the military, I’m guessing this explanation is closer to your thoughts (correct me if wrong). Basically, it wouldn’t really matter what form the regime took, because the military (acting in its own interests) would ensure it was a form that kept the peace with Israel, and this would be enough to satisfy the US.
This all begs the question though; do the interests of the US and the Egyptian military really match up to the degree that pressure will not be necessary?
Because if not, we surely must accept that foreign interference (ie US interference) could(/will) play some role in shaping how the current Egyptian ‘transition’ plays out?
You are correct: I subscribe to the second scenario. But I also recognize that the US put pressure on the military to act in a way that avoided bloodshed and which would lead to reform, including US officers at the Army War College being told to email their Egyptian classmates to encourage restraint and moderation.
For the US Mubarak became a liability once the crowds hit the streets. For the Egyptian military he was a liability long before that. Thus there is a concert of interests at play between them: both want continuity and stability, specifically of the type that will prevent the rise of more radical actors as legitimate contenders for power and which will thereby avoid upsetting Egypt’s place as the linchpin of the Sunni Arab world.
The issue, as SPC points out, is whether the Egyptian people will feel the same way and accept something short of democracy in exchange for more modest reforms that bring improved economic conditions and some measure of increased political voice. For all of its pro-democracy rhetoric, I bet that this is what the US hopes for and what the Egyptian military is prepared to deliver.
Politics as a science requires terminology that can be widely agreed upon and tested against events. This is accuracy not pedantry.
The Egyptian events clearly do not constitute a revolution. That is not to dismiss or deny solidarity to the public action which came at fatal cost to some and was an enthusiastic outpouring from a population long subjugated, denied as they were even bourgeois democratic forms.
My understanding is that a revolution involves a fundamental change in both property relations and class power which is nowwhere near likely yet in Egypt.
Yes a putsch is not a revolution, but it is part of an ongoing revolution which can only be resolved by a completed revolution or counter-revolution. A classic bonapartist regime with the military balancing between the two main classes, which can only last a brief time given the pressure from both classes to resolve the situation.
Pablo, a coup does indeed involve armed force but in many societies the armed forces don’t have the monopoly or even the lion’s share of armed force. This is particularly true of Sub-Saharan African states where the majority of political coups take place.
By definition, a state in which there is no monopoly on organised violence is a failed, or at least contested state. Thus armed interventions by military factions, paramilitary units or militias are not so much coups against a regime as they are struggles for turf, power or resources. The latter may have political motivations, but often they do not. A read of greed versus grievance theory is pertinent here.
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I’m considering the notion, that neither a putsch nor revolution has occurred. I was just looking at Juan Linz’s typology of authoritarian regimes, and I think Egypt fits the bureaucratic-military authoritarian regime model. In this model, there is a pragmatic coalition of military officers and bureaucrats that controls the government and dictates what other groups it allows to participate, by not allowing a mass party or ideological movement to arise.
I wouldn’t call this a putsch or coup, because it was hardly a quick move, like the August Putsch in the USSR in 1991. This was a defensive reaction by the ruling coalition to maintain its position against what might still turn out to be a mass movement, or a coalition of rival groups both to themselves and to the ruling coalition. I think there might be a coup, if a smaller group within the ruling coalition gets frustrated with subsequent events. The role of foreign powers is also unclear right now. But right now it seems that the ruling coalition has acted within its own consensus.. It has fired two of its members, seemingly, Gamal and Hosni. I want to see what changes are made later and if and how outside groups, like the Copts and Muslim Brotherhood are invited into government before I call this anything but rearranging the deck chairs.
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Just a point of order. The term military bureaucratic authoritarian regime derives from Guillermo O’Donnell’s seminal 1973 book on the subject (not Linz, who nevertheless has incorporated it into his typologies).
I agree that Egypt has been ruled by a military bureaucratic regime, which often have civilian facades and stage elections to legitimate their rule. The issue in Egypt, as has happened elsewhere, is that what started out as collegial rule behind the civilian facade by the military as an institution becomes more personalised in the form of a long-serving president (this happens less with prime ministers due to their more circumscribed roles). In this case the interests of the military as an institution clearly diverged from those of Mubarak once the latter started to try and interfere with the preferred succession scenario. At that point he became expendable. What began as a quiet internal move to ease him out over six months ago was accelerated by the protests into an abrupt public departure.
I agree that it will be interesting to see if and when this results in significant reform, much less regime change. The military has publicly committed itself to “democracy.” The question now is what does it mean by that term, which I do not think will be what Westerns see as liberal or social democracy. In fact, we could see a new addition to the literature on “democracy with adjectives” that has sprung up over the last twenty years.
Thanks. I’ll be studying for comps soon.
What happened in Egypt may not be a revolution in a strict academic sense, and I accept that it’s important to Pablo et al to maintain academic rigor, but it certainly is revolutionary. This is because Egyptians overcame their fears and faced down Mubarak and the army.
Right now, Egyptians are smelling the roses!
And although the army was complicit in oppressive military rule since Nasser, the army aslo realised it was less tainted than Mubarak and his police and intelligence forces, primarily because of the respect it gained in 1973, and has acted to protect that image.
But the army has been quite clear in its intention to usher in full democracy. I think in many ways, it realised the game is up. Exactly what happens to its corruptly mamaged business units is unclear, but I expect a gradual transition to remove itself from these.
I think and hope that Turkey can provide a role model for Egypt’s transition. When genuinely free elections in Turkey ushered in the current government, the army was breathing down its neck. But graduually, the civilian government has asserted its authority and the army appears now to be content with its role out of government.
In these highly militarised states, the army is always a major player, but Turkey seems to have found a middle path.
Much is made of what it all means for Israel. Well, one thing it doesn’t mean is war. I expect Egypt’s peace accord with Israel to remain soundly in place, but we will see Egypt’s new government being more assertive on some issues, eg the Palestinian issue.
I think we can look forward to the lifting of the seige of Gaza (even if only informally), to Egypt being able to apply the pressure of a good neighbour on Israel to lift the occupation as well constraining Israel from its repetitive attacks on its neighbours.
This is the role Egypt should have had all along.
To sum up, if all this is not revoutionary, can we agree it is game-changing?
HB: Good luck with the comps. I figured you were an academic. What are you testing out on? IR and Comparative? Theory? It has been a long time since I had to do them but I remember the stress involved.
Luc: Nice to see you take a break from your usual haunts and stop by with some reasoned commentary. I agree with you–the events in Egypt are potential game changers. The question is how meaningful the change will be. So far, although the vow to support democracy has been made, the status quo has also been reaffirmed.
I’m becoming more skeptical. I think there might be a Serbian solution.
Yes, IR and Comparative. It’s not so much the stress of the tests, as it is of the future.
Pablo – Genuinely insightful. The military really did simply replace one of their own. A putsch rather than a revolution despite what mainstream media would have us believe.
I posted a link on a previous thread to Pew research on the beliefs of Egyptians. The intent was to show how conservative the average Egyptian really is.
The length of time it took for Mubarak to stand down and the gentle encouragement from the military eventually gave Mubarak no choice.
The military now seem to be in a beneficial “bind”. They encouraged the people to stand up for their freedom and exercised admirable restraint in dealing with the protesters, even to the extent of protecting them from police.
Having done that and fed the expectations of the people for democracy the blowback and disappointment would be enormous if there is not more than a token move towards democracy. As the Pew research indicated to me a genuine democratic vote would lead to a government lead or dominated by the Muslim brotherhood.
Turkey and Pakistan provide examples of military that is trusted by the people to maintain stability. As you indicate the military is limited in its aims. It cannot provide the civilian leadership necessary to reduce corruption and drive the economy forward.
So my questions to you are: To what extent do you believe the current US administration will follow the Bush doctrine and push for democratic elections that will result in Islamic parties gaining power. And to what extent will they work with the Egyptian military to follow the Turkish example of entrenching growth and stability before allowing a religious party to dominate the government.
Lastly I come back to the Honduras parallel question I asked some time ago. Do you think the military has a role to protect the people and the apparatus of state from manipulation by an individual or a party even though that might appear non democratic in the short term?
Phil: Let me begin with a fundamental disagreement between us. I do not believe for a moment that W. Bush genuinely pushed for democracy in the ME or anywhere else. The purported support for democracy was an ex post facto justification for the Iraq invasion after the WMD ruse was uncovered. In the years that followed Bush and co did nothing–as in zero, zip, nada–other than pay lip service, to push for genuine democratisation anywhere. In fact, his administration cut back funding to the very agencies that were the lead US agencies for democracy promotion (such as the National Endowment for Democracy), and undermined UN efforts to promote the civil society organisations that are considered to be the building blocks of democratic society. Instead he pushed “democracy” at the point of a bayonet.
As for the attitudes of Egyptians as they pertain to democracy. You can either be pro-democracy or not. Concern about who might win if the vote is free, fair and transparent should not be the criteria on which support for democracy rests. So concerns about the MB winning power via elections is just a “risk” that the West will have to take if it is sincere in its support for democracy in Egypt. As things stand, your concern about the MB exaggerates both their degree of organization and their degree of militancy. They may be well-organised in comparison to the disorganised opposition that are the bulk of the anti-Mubarak forces, but there are internal factions and competition between moderate and militant elements within it. In other words, they are no evil monolith about to take over if the military steps down (as if it would or could).
I have posted on this before but will reiterate a basic distinction between military regimes, specifically the more sophisticated versions known as military-bureaucratic regimes (where the military rules as an institution rather than merely backing a uniformed dictator or civilian autocrat). There are two types of military bureaucratic regimes: the arbitrator type, which steps in to mediate between contending civilian political factions; and the ruler type, which assumes power with the intention of exercising open-ended rule in order to address what it sees as acute problems and shortcomings in the political system and society.
The Egyptian military are a good example of a declining ruler typology, which occurred in the measure that Mubarak was able to personalise his rule and undertake projects that were not in accord with the military vision for society over the long-term. It has now stepped into the role of arbitrator, which will be a tricky position since that means that it will eventually have to step aside and subordinate itself to elected civilian authority. No wonder they have suspended parliament and postponed elections for at least six months–they need time to figure out what to do, how to do it, and who to allow into the political process without undermining the bottom line objectives I outlined in the post.
For the West, secular nationalist military regimes of the ruler type have been the preferred bulwark against populism and socialism (in Latin America and East Asia) and Islamicism (in the Muslim world). Thus a reversion to a ruler type military regime would not be unwelcome by the West, although it is clear that there will have to be some civilian facade and some measure of reform and political opening will have to occur. But here again the thorny question of democracy versus stability emerges: if one is sincerely supportive of democracy, then the Turkish/Pakistan model you endorse is unacceptable. If one is more interested in stability rather than democracy, then your preferred scenario is the way to go.
The best scenario, as I see it, is for arbitrator military regimes to oversee a top-down process of regime liberalisation leading to the gradual installation of a democratic regime. Brazil 1980-1985 is a good example of such an incremental approach, and Chile post-1989 offers a more radical variation on the theme (since the military stepped down along with Pinochet in 1990, but remained as a veto agent under transition rules that provided absolute guarantees and inviolate conditions that all civilian political contenders had to agree to apriori before the 1989 foundational election was held).
I do not see a parallel with Honduras. In Honduras the military command sided with the traditional oligarchic elite against a populist president who was attempting to reconfigure the political system away from traditional elite domination while undertaking serious social reform. The clumsy way in which Zelaya undertook his proposed changes and his pro-Chavez, anti-US rhetoric alarmed both the traditional elites and the armed forces hierarchy and alienated the US and most of his Central American neighbors. Thus the military stepped in, did an arbitrator stint while elections were called, and returned to the barracks once an “acceptable” president was elected and the political and socio-economic status quo restored.
Which is a long, comparative way of saying that the Egyptian military and its foreign supporters are now sitting on the horns of a dilemma: do they support a full move to democracy or do they push for reform around the political and social margins while maintaining the armed forces as the centrepiece of the regime?
If i were a betting man, I’d take that bet. But, just to be contrary, and returning to Linz, what do you think are the odds of the Supreme Council going the other way? What about a corporatist turn? Now that the world s watching, might not the generals and bureaucrats go for something epochal?
Thanks for that. We are in basic agreement about the dilemma. Can you point to a country where UN intervention assisted with a move from autocracy to democracy. The military whether internal or external are key players in all of the transitions I can think of in the last seventy years. I see the inherent corruption of the UN along with it’s piles of cash for elites who can play the game. That is the curse for Africa. It is a shame that the antipathy of so many towards bush personally blinds judgement. Democratic elections went ahead in gaza even though the likely result was obvious as an example.
I was just offering what I think is the best transition scenario for Egypt. I am not betting on it. One other thing, “corporatism” (you are presumably referring to state corporatism rather than societal or neo-corporatism) is a form of interest group administration specific to authoritarian regimes. It can be inclusionary and mobilisational or exclusionary and de-mobilisational (wholely or in part) depending on the nature of the regime, the nature of the organised interests involved (business and labour groups, certainly, but potentially others as well) and the amount of political activation prior to the rise of the authoritarian regime. That would suggest that the Egyptian military will attempt to refine the current exclusionary, demobilisational state corporatist system in Egypt and perhaps even transform it into an inclusionary type with limited mobilisational features.
Phil: I think that you are too harsh on agencies like the UNDP, although your concern for corruption and deal-making with autocrats is legitimate. It is too much to ask the UN to be a major influence in a peaceful regime transition to democracy, since foreign imposition of “democracy” has only occurred in situations in which authoritarians have been defeated in war (Germany and Japan, perhaps Iraq eventually), and the UN in any event winds up playing a post-war reconstruction role that is by design limited to non-political humanitarian relief efforts (although other transnational NGOs do focus on democratic institutional design and reform in post-authoritarian contexts, and these often receive funding from agencies such as the UNDP as well as national governments channeling funds via organisations like the NED).
As for the blinders ostensibly worn by those who take a dim view of the Bush 43 “democratisation” efforts. The US and Israel did all they could to prevent the electoral victory of Hamas, to include resorting to bribery, threats and electoral fraud in order to get key constituencies in Gaza to switch their support to Fatah. In spite of this, UN and other election monitors were able to prevent wide-scale irregularities in voting and the result was a nightmare for the US and Israel, something now compounded by the electoral success of Hezbollah in Lebanon. This illustrates the false championing of democracy by Bush and co. In fact, to believe that the likes of Cheney, Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, George Tenant and the PNAC members who worked for the Rumseld and Cheney had any sincere interest in democracy promotion is to evidence exactly the type of blinders that you accuse the anti-Bush crowd of wearing. Or, it is simple hypocrisy masquerading as indignation.
Yes. I just wanted to point out that a pluralistic direction might be too optimistic. Even if so, there are plenty of bad models to follow, like Serbia. The philippines doesn’t look that good these days either. The Obama administration seems to like Indonesia.
Pablo – Bush biography had an interesting reference to the Gaza election. Bush had the decision to agree with it going ahead or not and determined it should for better or worse. I agree they then tried their best to influence the course of the election, but at least it went ahead.
You accuse Neo-Cons of not being interested in the promotion of democracy? Their methods are more robust than you would countenance but their objectives are the same.
Well, whatever the stated intentions, allowing the Hamas group to contest the elections before they committed to the very peace process that established the PA institutions was delusional – if the goal was a successful peace process. It might well be argued that democratic elections here including Hamas was a revolutionary move to undermine the peace process, as either Hamas would win or have to undermine PA administration of Gaza (via a putsch).
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was a test run for withdrawal on the WB, and the subsequent putsch in Gaza has derailed the peace process.