In a paper forthcoming at Foreign Policy Analysis, Clayton Thyne and I suggest that attempted coups can prompt authoritarian leaders to open their political systems, potentially leading to democratic transitions. Our work was recently applied to an ill-fated December 30 attempt to unseat Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. In contrast implementing liberal reforms, Jeffrey Smith and Alexander Noyes demonstrate that Jammeh’s actions have been definitively undemocratic.
While I doubt Jammeh's offer to rule for “a billion years” will be realized, I completely agree when Smith & Noyes claim “Gambia’s longtime dictator isn’t going anywhere any time soon.” However, I should clarify that our paper does not investigate the type of act undertaken in Gambia and, if anything, our theory anticipates the status quo (authoritarianism) should prevail. I'll comment on this and then to get to a far more important implication of their post: social science essentially has very little to offer regarding cases like Gambia.
Failed Coups and Democratization
Our investigation of 170 global episodes of authoritarianism shows that democratic transitions are more than twice as likely when a successful or failed coup occurred in the previous 3 years. I'll avoid the technical details of our model since the trend is easily illustrated with descriptive statistics:
Using regime type data from Cheibub and colleagues, this graph looks at countries that were non-democracies, like Gambia, the year prior to the coup. As we move from left to right we see how the percentage of cases that are democracies varies. The solid line shows a sample of countries that experienced a coup in year 0, while the dashed line shows the trend in countries that did not. (a quick data note: we originally used the Polity data for our FPA paper; I use the Cheibub measure here since it covers a wider range of cases).
Countries that experienced a failed coup are well over twice as likely to be a democracy (16.4% versus 6.6%) at the end of the third year, eventually widening to an 11% gap by the end of the fifth year (20.7% versus 9.4%). This trend holds up rather strongly when controlling for other common determinants of democratization.
Coup or no Coup?
Many will colloquially refer to the Gambian “coup attempt,” but scholarly definitions do not consider the December 30 event to be an attempted coup d’état. Luttwak’s classic Coup d’état: A Practical Handbook, for example, required coups to be undertaken by a “segment of the state apparatus” and decades of scholarship generally follows suit. Clay and I are especially clear about this distinction in our dataset. Though news outlets initially reported the Gambian plot was carried out by elements of the military and/or Presidential Guard, subsequent reports clarified these were former members, primarily expatriates living in the United States and Europe.
This conceptual distinction is not merely semantic in this case. Our “perhaps over-optimistic” expectation that failed coups can act “as credible signals that leaders must enact meaningful reforms” was anticipated specifically because a part of the state apparatus attempted to unset the leader. We have no reason to believe actions by regime outsiders, including former members of the military will influence leaders’ decisions via the mechanisms we discuss in our paper. Instead of a “resounding no” to our argument for failed coups, the case would fit our more mundane expectation for non-events (no transition).
This reflects a common tendency to lump different types of anti-regime activity together. Our coup dataset originated in part due to the tendency for them to be conflated with civil war. This has similar theoretical implications. As Hultquist notes, “coups do not require the popular mobilization that largely informs the theory about civil war processes.” However, models testing those theories would often conflate the two so long as the coup attempt was "bloody" enough to reach a sufficient body count for classification as a civil war. James Fearon and David Cunningham recognized the bias this would introduce to duration models early on, while folks like Thyne and Hultquist have recently considered other conflict dynamics.
Lessons for Social Science
The Gambian case, and the discussion by Smith & Noyes more generally, points to a few ways in which scholarship could be seriously improved.
First, failed coups can range from what Kebschull referred to as a “superficial, shotgun attempt by a few, poorly organized officers who fired a few shots in the air” to cases that saw collaboration amongst high-ranking officials across the entire security apparatus. The former case would likely have less of an influence on subsequent decisions than the latter, if they matter at all. Had some of the would-be Gambian putschists hailed from the current ranks of the security apparatus (or if reliable info comes to light showing some actually did), it would probably still have far less of an influence on Jammeh than if his Presidential Guard had fought off hundreds of soldiers led by folks from the military high command. Future studies of the consequences of failed coups would do well to distinguish the degree to which they legitimately threatened the executive’s tenure, how different elements of the security apparatus behaved, or how the public reacted. In short, conditionalities are likely important.
Second, the literature could be vastly improved by considering other post-coup outcomes. As an excellent paper by Nikolay Marinov and Hein Goemans mentions, "While coups have been a staple of twentieth-century politics, their aftermath has eluded systematic scrutiny." Beyond our findings for democratization, the 230+ failed coup attempts since 1950 have produced plenty of “bad aftermaths.” Increased authoritarianism (Daniel Arap Moi’s actions following Kenya’s 1982 failed coup), civil war (e.g., post-2002 Côte d’Ivoire), and one-sided mass killing (Samuel Doe’s reprisals after a failed 1985 coup) are just a few that spring to mind. Understanding the conditions that contribute to any of these diverse outcomes would be a welcome addition to scholarship.
Third, though little scholarly attention has been given to failed coups, even less has been given to events like the December 30 effort against Jammeh. Infamous European-born guns-for-hire like Bob Denard and Mad Mike Hoare have long since left the political scene, but these type of acts have not gone away. Equatorial Guinea’s 2004 “Wonga Coup” saw well-funded mercenaries plotting to overthrow the Obiang government, which was again attacked by armed men from the Niger Delta region five years later. Clay and I do not investigate acts like these and I know of no comprehensive effort to do so. But they are certainly worth study. As it stands, social science essentially offers nothing to systematically explain these events or their consequences.
Finally, studies could also do more to consider “plots” or “rumors.” In contrast to our Foreign Policy Analysis paper, conspiracies that are discovered and quashed prior to execution could signal the strength of the coup-proofing apparatus. Coup “plots” could also be no more than a pretense to purge opponents. Dwyer’s original post on the Gambia case at Jay Ulfelder’s Dart-Throwing Chimp noted “there is speculation as to whether some [previous plots against Jammeh] were real or simply ways to purge members of the military.” Kebschull more directly referred to these types of acts as “deliberately contrived nonsense.”
My best guess is that Smith and Noyes are on the mark when speculating that successive coup "plots" could contribute to authoritarian entrenchment. Though it is inevitably difficult to verify and document plots, they are still regularly reported and—like Turkey’s “Sledgehammer Plot”—could teach us important lessons about a range of political dynamics.
Kim Yi Dionne, Laura Seay, and Erin McDaniel have written an insightful piece over at the Monkey Cage. A question they raise that caught my eye was “Is a largely military response appropriate for a public health epidemic?” I am currently teaching a class on the International Politics of Africa, and since we have talked at length about both the Ebola outbreak, intervention, and regional military establishments, this is definitely a timely question worth discussing.
My take is that appropriate or not, a military response had become effectively unavoidable. Though they rightly point out that the Liberian health systems and state institutions have not collapsed, it would be impossible to overstate how weak they are. I vaguely remember an account from Joseph McCormick and Susan Fisher-Hoch’s book Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC in which McCormick is in Sierra Leone responding to a Lassa outbreak. Government ministers were astounded to hear of the CDC budget, which was larger than the budget for the entire country.
Some basic numbers can further illuminate the severity of the challenge for the region’s governments. I’ll begin with doctors. The World Bank reports data for physicians per 1000 people. The world average is around 1.5, and virtually all of West Africa is a mere fraction of this. Just over half of the 23 states with a rate of .1 or less (one physician per 10,000 people) are in West Africa. Liberia’s rate of .014 is second worse for recorded states and with a population of 4.3 million would give it around 60 physicians nationwide. This is on par with news reports covering the outbreak. Similar in population and size to Liberia, my (under-developed by US standards) home state of Kentucky has over 13,000 licensed physicians. Give Kentucky a mark 3.02 on the measure.
Sierra Leone ranks at .022, Guinea at .100. Worsening this is the nature of Ebola. Clinical symptoms can be indistinguishable from endemic diseases that can’t be transmitted person-to-person such as malaria. When outbreaks begin health professionals have little reason to suspect a pathogen so dangerous and rare. By the time a diagnosis is made the local medical staff has already suffered casualties. I’ll point to the recent unrelated outbreak in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, not far from the first documented outbreak in 1976.
According to the information given to the WHO and provided to media, here’s how it spread: The first person to contract Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a pregnant woman who butchered a bush animal given to her by her husband. She was taken to a clinic after she started displaying symptoms of Ebola virus disease and died on Aug. 11 of a hemorrhagic fever, that at the time, was not yet identified as Ebola. The woman died, and was dealt with by health care workers.
In a country with such low numbers of trained medical staff, every death matters. Beyond medical infrastructure, security will be an increasing concern. Attacks, though described as isolated incidents, illustrate potential hazards and could worsen as governments continue to attempt to enforce quarantines and there are more medical personnel on the ground and traveling to newer areas. MSF have seen its personnel attacked. So, too, has the Red Cross. The same can be said about multiple clinics, from which infected patients have had to flee. It's not quite the smallpox episode of ER or families fleeing quarantines in movies like Outbreak or Contagion. In a region with precious few clinics and medical personnel, it is absolutely critical to provide adequate security for the resources that are present. Not just for the lives of the staff, and not simply to preserve precious resources, but also to demonstrate that clinics are safe venues to which patients can go without fear of violence.
Safety simply cannot be guaranteed with local resources. The Liberian military is also undermanned, as are a preponderance of African armies. The US contingent being sent to the region is itself 50% larger than the Liberian military, which also lacks air capabilities. The Kentucky Air National Guard possess both more air power and more personnel than Liberia’s armed forces, while the Kentucky Army National Guard has around 4x as much personnel. We certainly do not question the ability of the National Guard to respond to crises such wildfires, blizzards, ice storms, or as seen with my hometown of Falmouth, KY in 1997, floods. An epidemic poses different challenges but the core functions of controlling movements, providing security, and providing transport and communications are certainly crucial.
Below are descriptive data that illustrate just how stretched thin the Liberian military would be attempting to either enforce a quarantine or to otherwise help maintain security. I’ll begin with people per soldier. Though a cursory measure, we could think of this as accounting for how many people each soldier would be responsible for defending. Non-African states see a median value of 215 people for each soldier. The median African state is nearly 3 times as high, at just over 600. Liberia is in a league in its own at just under 2000 people per soldier.
We see similar dynamics if considering geographical area. In this case, think of how much territory a soldier would be responsible for defending on average. Non-African states see a median value of 2.6 square kilometers per soldier. The median African state is 6x higher this go-around, at 15, while Liberia is again is demonstrably understaffed at 50 square kilometers per soldier.
Other Africa Liberia USA
People per Soldier 215 601 1958 198
Kilometers per Soldier 2.6 15.2 54.4 6.2
Obviously, the Liberian government cannot and is not attempting to lock down an entire country, and nor should they. Looking at security in this manner is also obviously quite crude. However, the state is remarkably understaffed in both healthcare and security, a particularly unfortunate scenario given current needs. Foreign assistance is essential, and the region—which shares many of the traits in terms of weak medical and military establishments—simply lacks the capacity to address the challenge.
If nothing else let’s hope this case acts as a signal to the international community that health crises involving communicable diseases are not simply the problem of a far off state that may be of little strategic relevance. Infectious disease is a global concern.
This is also (yet another) sign that the international community needs to make general healthcare a larger priority. The original outbreak on the Ebola River in the northern Congo was ultimately slowed due in part to the simple effort of Dr. Bill Close to bring protective gear (rubber gloves and rubber aprons) to the local medical personnel. Proactive, rather than reactive, efforts at humanitarian assistance could help avoid the necessity of military intervention in future cases.
I wanted to post more data relevant the recent post at Monkey Cage. That post only advertises the post-Cold War period and only uses one democracy indicator to illustrate what happens after revolts or coups, so I wanted to offer a more comprehensive look. This can partially be seen as an extension of a recent post by Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz.
These figures show what happens after revolts (called "revolutions" here because I was apparently zoning out while making the figures) and coups when looking at different specifications of democracy. Here I use Boix, Miller, & Rosato, Geddes, Wright, & Frantz, Cheibub, Gandhi, & Vreeland, and Polity (>+5) to determine if a state is a democracy. Coup & revolt data come from Svolik (with coding updates from Erica Frantz).
DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting that these countries are democratizing because of a coup or revolt. In many cases a state might democratize in spite of an otherwise adverse event and in other cases "democratizing" might be nothing more than returning to the state of affairs prior to the coup/revolt. If/when Thailand returns to democracy for example, it would be quite a stretch to say the coup led to democracy.
Here I'll just point to the major point I wanted to get at, which is underplayed in the Monkey Cage piece: democratization seems to follow revolts quickly or not at all; democratization can follow coups, though at a slower rate. It is helpful to look at a wider timeframe.
Cold War (to 1991)
I didn't expect to see this, but those quickly-born democracies that follow revolts seem to have been very fragile during the Cold War. Coups, meanwhile, continue to show a slow trend toward democracy (though at about half the rate seen in the post-Cold War.
Post-Cold War (since 1991)
This is what stayed in the Monkey Cage post. Over 50% of post-revolt countries are democracies 5 years on, while this is true for around 35-40% of countries following coups.
Already one person has suggested to me that Thailand is heading toward a military dictatorship. I want to make a few quick comments about the (un)likeliness of such a scenario before following up with a more comprehensive post in the next day or two. Below I summarize statistics for how different political science datasets classify regime types following coups. This begins from the year of the coup (year=0) and ranges to five years after the coup (year=5). I also break this down into the Cold War (left) and Post-Cold War (right) periods.
Data for successful coups comes from my work with Clayton Thyne. The figure compares states classified as democracies by Cheibub, Gandhi, and Vreeland to military regimes as classified by Banks.
First, military regimes are far less common than people think. This is probably even true for the Cold War, when within a year following the coup less than 30% of regimes could be described as military. This also quickly drops over time. A similar decline is seen following the Cold War, when only around 6% of states are military regimes once they are 3+ years removed from the coup. Even the numbers in this figure are overstated, as this is being held up by Myanmar's military regime, whose coup actually occurred shortly before the close of the Cold War. The data indicate no state that experienced a successful coup since 1991 could be described as a military regime 5 years later. Some might point to Pervez Musharraf, but Pakistan's classification as a military regime following its 1999 coup changed in 2002, presumably because of the general elections. In other words, Musharraf started dressing less like this and more like this.
Second, the opposite trend can be seen when we look at democratization. Even the Cold War saw countries more likely to be democracies than military regimes after 5 years. This trend has greatly strengthened since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as countries are about 5x more likely to be a democracy than a military regime when 3+ years removed from a coup. An excellent paper by Nikolay Marinov and Hein Goemans discusses some of the reasons for this trend. Clay and I also take a shot at explaining this dynamic here.
Historically oriented people will likely be skeptical when coup leaders announce their "temporary" plans, but the reality is that armies do not hold power for long periods of time. We will in fact see the military step down and will see Thailand's (albeit flawed) democracy restored. I'll leave detailed comments to people whose knowledge on Thailand is significantly beyond Alan's speech at Stu's wedding in The Hangover 2, but I will say that away from military rule is far less challenging than getting politicians, parties, and their supporters to buy into the rules of the game, whatever those rules end up being.
DISCLAIMER: Proceed with caution! Minimally-informed and premature commentary to follow. Comments, especially those offering a different interpretation of the facts of the Ukraine case, are welcomed.
Claude Welch once said that “a coup d’état is a sharp, clear event, easy to date and (if successful) possible to document.” While this is perhaps true of what we might think of as “traditional” military coups, recent scholars have been keen to point out that coups are not limited to the armed forces. A table from my 2011 Journal of Peace Research piece with Clayton Thyne illustrates a number of ways in which "perpetrators" have been defined over the years, and what we see is that 1) the involvement of the military is not a necessary condition across definitions (though it is a common one), and 2) recent efforts (us and Marshall & Marshall) make it clear that perpetrators simply have to be a member of the state apparatus in one way or another.
Clay and I ultimately define a coup d'état as "illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive." There are, inevitably, qualifiers necessary for virtually every aspect of the definition. A stand-alone assassin coming from the state apparatus could qualify as illegal, overt, involving a member of the state, and having successfully removed an executive. A qualifier we discussed in the paper, then, is that there must be a wider conspiracy.
Frustratingly for us, though coups have become more rare over time it seems the ones that do occur are becoming stranger and more difficult to define. The recent ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych provides a variety of challenges. As Jay Ulfelder has aptly noted, Yanukovych's removal seems to meet the criteria for a coup. A few qualifiers, however, are unavoidable.
First, was his removal illegal? Ulfelder remarks that the processes laid out in the Ukrainian constitution do not appear to have been followed by the letter of the law if we treat Yanukovych's removal as coming at the hands of the parliament. I would tend to agree.
Second, the event was clearly overt.
Third, an illegal act of a parliament would clearly meet the state apparatus qualifier. However, many will make the argument that Yanukovych had already been forced out of office by protesters. While such a scenario would be illegal, this would remove the "state apparatus" qualifier. (We would not consider the standing down of the security services to fill this criteria). I'll return to this point later.
A final criteria would involve removing the "sitting executive." This particular criteria is potentially problematic. Many coups, for example, are undertaken by elements in the government to fill a power vacuum, such as in the aftermath of a death of a previous executive. Such was the case, for example, after the deaths of long-serving West African heads of state in Togo (Eyadema) and Guinea (Conte). The military in these cases used illegal means to install their preferred candidate in the former, while they directly seized power in the latter. Clay and I consider these events to be coups because constitutions will invariably include language that defines succession, and in each of these cases there were criteria for who was now the legal head of state, acting or otherwise.
This is an important distinction because it moves away from an explicit treatment of who is the sitting head of state and toward who should be the head of state in the event of a vacancy. For example, upon Hosni Mubarak's "resignation" in February 2011, he announced he would be succeeded by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Clay and I make no claims regarding a gift of prognostication, remote viewing, or any other supernatural form of scholarly insight, and cannot definitively tell you that Mubarak was forced out by the military (our guess is that he was). The true reasons behind his resignation were not "overt" and all we can assume is that he resigned under pressure, as many executives have done during transitions that were not considered to be coups by us or anyone else. Fortunately, Clay and I focus more on seizing power as opposed to leaving it, and can leave such ambiguous cases of exit to folks way smarter than us (like these guys).
What we can tell you is that nowhere in the Egyptian constitution would you find language allowing SCAF to serve as a successor to a resigning president. In other words, though we cannot tell you with full certainty that Mubarak was ousted in a coup, we are confident in saying that the seizure of power by SCAF was in fact a coup. The qualifier, of course, is that it might be more accurate to describe it as having targeted the man who should have succeeded Mubarak in line with the constitution.
We potentially see a similar definitional issue with Ukraine. One could make the case that Yanukovych's flight from Kiev acted as an abdication of sorts. It certainly would not be the first time a leader, met with popular resentment, fled from the capital and steadfastly refused to resign. A question, then, arises: at what point does a leader's abandoning of a capital due to fears of their personal safety qualify as having left office?
We can provide no clear answer on this. A very, very brief reading of the case and select articles of Ukraine's constitution tells us that Yanukovych, who had not resigned, should have still been considered the head of state. And though we are very, very far from scholars of Ukrainian constitutional law (or that of any other place), we believe that the process of impeachment was not followed to the letter of the law (we will, of course, look for other interpretations in the coming weeks and months). It might be worth considering that the prevailing sentiment of the government, including in both the armed forces and the parliament itself, was that Yanukovych had already been effectively removed due to the actions of popular protests. In this case the unanimous parliamentary vote could be seen as a symbolic gesture that would allow the country to move on rather than a direct removal of a sitting executive. This is mere speculation, so I will return to the previous point: who should have succeeded him?
Article 112. In the event of an early termination of the authority of the President of Ukraine in accordance with Articles 108, 109, 110 and 111 of this Constitution, the discharge of the duties of the President
This language suggests that regardless of whether we see Yanukovych's flight as an abdication, or his impeachment as legal, power should have been transferred to then-Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov. Power instead went to the speaker of the parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov. At this point I cannot say whether Arbuzov recused himself (I would greatly appreciate feedback on this point), but given my current reading I cannot see a scenario in which both Yanukovych's removal and his replacement can both be seen as constitutional.
Clay and I are ("very tentatively") considering this event to be a coup, albeit what Ulfelder has referred to as a "parliamentary coup." We will continue to investigate the case and could very well change our classification as we become more educated on the facts.
On April 11 Allen Ruff published an earlier attack in which he belittled academic freedom at Nazarbayev University. Ruff went so far as to claim that “faculty and staff must take care not to speak beyond the confines of their respective disciplines - or else.” This claim is demonstrably false. Of all people, I should be concerned with academic freedom. I study regime change. I argue that coups, for example, can promote democratization in places rather similar to Kazakhstan. Not only have I done this writing, but I actually conducted a public lecture arguing this point. I never worried about an “or else” scenario and have never received any indication that I need to take care in regards to the material in either my research or teaching. I would be interested to see Ruff offer evidence supporting his original “or else” claim. My guess is that it simply doesn’t exist.
Ruff has switched his tune regarding academic freedom, now claiming “the regime certainly would not want to generate some cause celeb and international press by possibly manhandling and bouncing out some well-intentioned Mid Western academic who happened to speak a bit too much truth to power.” In response to Howard Schweber’s more accurate depiction of academic freedom Ruff retorted “[Schweber] was afforded that luxury, clearly an example of "repressive tolerance" in extremis.”
In just 5 short months the Nazarbayev University faculty have, according to Ruff’s own words, moved from having to “take care not to speak beyond the confines of their respective disciplines - or else” to being afforded the “luxury” of academic freedom lest the regime fall prey to “some cause celeb and international press.” What wonderful progress!!
Aside from the changing nature of Ruff’s narrative, this quote illustrates a very important dynamic. While he can note the lack of press (and other) freedoms in Kazakhstan, he has pointed to NU as a critical source of information and potential criticism of the regime, potential criticism that—to listen to Ruff—the regime will be forced to tolerate.
Ruff’s preference, strangely, is to condemn those that attempt to create such a voice, namely the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He downplays this voice by claiming Kazakhstan is “not about to become the center of some Central Asian version of the "Arab Spring." He misses the mark on a variety of fronts. First, aside from not justifying his stance, I cannot imagine that any of us are hoping for an Arab spring scenario. We don’t want to see mass protests, we don’t want to see civil war, and we certainly do not want to see our students wounded or dead in the streets.
Second, political or social changes are almost exclusively far less obvious and incredibly more mundane than the Arab spring. These alternatives, in the world of Ruff, apparently do not exist. Scholars, meanwhile, have argued that education, including ties to the West, are important contributors to democratization, especially in the context of the former Soviet Union. In contrast, Ruff believes that the best approach for dealing with a “well-ensconced and fortified kleptocracy, its state-run development plans, and its current trajectory as a rising star in the constellation of energy-rich capitalist dictatorships,” is to isolate it. Perhaps we should also keep Kazakhstan’s future “technocrats” from studying in Western institutions?
Third, an Arab spring, or even democratization more generally, is not a goal of any of us. Ruff mentions wanting to spread “America’s liberal ‘democratizing’ gospel” and its “Mid Western” faculty. We are an incredibly diverse group with rather few individuals from the Midwest. In political science we have faculty from Washington, Kentucky, Virginia, Russia, Belgium, Japan, South Korea, and Kenya. Our acting dean is from Kansas, our vice-provost is Australian, our provost is Welsh, and our president Japanese. So when he speaks of “America’s” gospel, I haven’t a clue what he is talking about. In my classes I promote critical thinking and ask my students respect each others’ views. If that is furthering the American agenda I suppose I am guilty.
Ruff’s latest attack piece leaves us with little more than 1) Kazakhstan is a bad, bad, bad place, 2) the illuminati, errr, former employees of the World Bank, helped launch the university, and 3) the US has strategic interests in Kazakhstan. These points are noted a few times, and five paragraphs are dedicated to the World Bank, but conspicuously absent is any discussion of the actual partnership between NU and Ruff’s title villain, UW. My guess is simply that Ruff has little to go on.
Responses to his prior attack pieces invited him to contact the faculty. His latest effort shows this has not occurred. I’ll now encourage Ruff to write directly to the future “technocrats” of which he speaks and explain to them 1) why Wisconsin is “by association” guilty of the atrocities of the government, and 2) that they, as citizens of a kleptocracy, should not have the opportunity to study in a more free academic environment.
Stylin’ in Astana,
This is not a military coup d'etat. It is simply a peaceful revolution."
Some quick thoughts on Egypt while winding down for the night...
Defenders of the July 2013 Egyptian coup will point the thousands protesting, the dozens of deaths, and President Morsi's creeping authoritarianism as justification for the maneuver. Indeed, the situation was precarious. Such were the conditions in the newly independent Republic of Congo when Joseph Mobutu used political chaos to justify his "neutralization" of President Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Lumumba. I posted the above quote from Mobutu on my rarely used (and even more rarely visited) twitter account upon reading about the Egyptian military's ultimatum to President Morsi. The statements just seemed so similar.
But Egypt isn't the Congo, of course.
To be fair, coups have more popular support than many might think. We can't get much objective data since surveys are rarely conducted in countries that are prone to military coups, but the World Values Survey's efforts in Pakistan in 1997 and 2001 happen to bookend Musharraf's 1999 coup and gives us a glance at how a polity might view military intervention. Included in the survey was a question about how respondents would feel about different entities running the government, including the military. The results are quite revealing:
Yes, that is correct. In 1997, over 40% of the 733 people surveyed in 1997 thought that having the army rule was a "good" idea. Following the coup, the New York Times noted
"... most Pakistanis are eager to give General Musharraf the benefit of the doubt, agreeing with him that their wobbly and troubled democracy needed to be demolished so it could be rebuilt on a surer foundation."
This is in stark contrast to two years after the coup, which saw these hopes dashed and the support numbers dwindle to just above 4%. Despite such unfilled military-led transitions, claims echoing the NYT quote above are now being echoed in Egypt.
Egypt, of course, is not Pakistan.
To be fair, history does have examples of coups promoting democratization, perhaps more than people realize. Democracy's "third wave," for example, began following the Portuguese military's toppling of the Novo Estado regime, described as "Europe's oldest dictatorship." More recently, Niger saw its polity score (a common resource for measuring democracy for quantitative scholars which ranges from -10=least democratic to +10=most democratic) decline from +6 to -3 under Mamadou Tandja. His continued authoritarian entrenchment drew the ire of the Economic Community of West African States and got the west African nation suspended. After his ouster the new government undid the increase in presidential powers, Niger returned to its previous +6, and international relations were normalized. A would-be strongman was ousted, democracy strengthened.
But Egypt isn't Niger.
The Egyptian military is not simply ousting a leader that may have been overstepping his mandate as Tandja did. They have targeted an entire political movement in the Muslim Brotherhood. This might remind some of the Algerian crackdown on the Islamic Salvation Front. For those that don't recall, the FIS dominated the first multi-party election in Algerian history, only to see the military step in and veto the results "to preserve the security of the nation and its citizens" (New York Times). The following months witnessed thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of FIS supporters imprisoned and a full transition from electoral politics to guerrilla warfare. As many as 150,000 were killed and massacres were too common to count.
Let's hope Egypt isn't Algeria.
Over the last week I received a number of emails asking my opinion on the events in Egypt. Inevitably, some asked me about how I liked working Nazarbayev University and/or living in Kazakhstan. Then I have this forwarded to me (yet again): http://truth-out.org/news/item/15691.
While going through the merit (or lack of) of this offering simply isn’t worth the time, I will make a quick note on an important topic the authors bring up: academic freedom. The authors write:
“Implicit is a clear message that faculty and staff must take care not to speak beyond the confines of their respective disciplines - or else.”
To get directly to the point: I have never had any reason to fear speaking beyond any “confines” either in my research or my teaching and I know of no one at Nazarbayev University that has. This is an important subject to me since I study a potentially sensitive topic: military coups.
To illustrate, I have (with a colleague) recently had a paper accepted for publication that investigates how coups can actually promote democratization in authoritarian regimes and even presented an expanded version of the analysis in an on-campus talk that was open to the public. Not only did I not fear or experience any repercussions of broaching a potentially sensitive political topic, I was and continue to be perfectly willing to acknowledge the implications of the analysis for Kazakhstan. Below I report our results for the influence of coups on the probability of democratization, conditioned on polity score and leader tenure.
You know what? Cue the KNB…at first glance coup doesn’t look so bad: Kazakhstan's likelihood of democratization is expected to more than double following a coup. But shouldn't the "or else" scenario should have deterred me from making such a proclamation? Perhaps...if it existed.
To be clear, I do not advocate a coup attempt against President Nazarbayev. This is not because of fears of the NU administration or the Kazakh government, rather it is because of other practical implications of a coup. Aside from my own conclusion that such efforts in places like Kazakhstan are extremely unlikely to play out and are extremely likely to fail, fallout surrounding coups can be disastrous and is simply not worth the consequences.
I have also experienced no constraints in the classroom. The authors use Kazakhstan's Freedom House rating to level criticisms against the government, my university, and--perhaps most unfairly--against the University of Wisconsin. The use of this presumably damning piece of evidence caught my eye since I actually use Freedom House as a learning tool in my research methods class. I walk the students through its survey questions, discussing validity of the questionnaire and methodology, amongst other things. Question by question, the students are willing to actively offer criticisms of the government when merited. If I am limited in my own critique it is more to do with ignorance of local politics than a fear of it.
All of this is to say in my experience the "or else" suggestion is complete fiction. It is a fanciful idea that the authors of this piece fabricated to make their story seem more provocative. I could ramble on about other (probably deliberate) misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies, but it is not worth my time and would likely bore readers even more than this post.
If the authors are legitimately interested in promoting democratization in Kazakhstan they should realize that places like NU are an important part of this process. Democracy is not spread by isolating authoritarian regimes. To the contrary, the West should make an effort to increase economic, political, organizational, social, and communication ties with places like Kazakhstan. The authors of the truthout piece don't see what goes on inside of NU. They do not see students tell the faculty after a lecture or a semester that we changed their worldview. They do not see our students tell us that they have never been pushed to think as critically and independently. They have never seen our students tell us that we changed their attitude toward the West, what democracy really is, and even the importance of striving for better gender equality, human rights, etc. My guess is the authors do not care. They certainly didn't ask us.
To repeat the note on the coup data page: the Egyptian military's removal of President Morsi is unquestionably a coup attempt. There will inevitably be an ongoing debate over the justification of the effort and what the long term consequences may be, but the reality is that Morsi's ouster is a coup by just about any objective definition of the phenomenon. Simply put, coups concern the removal of a leader. They need not bring wider institutional change, they need not target democratic leaders, they need not be followed by the military maintaining power, and they need not lack popular support.
In defining coups we should not be interested in the character of the targeted leader (democratically elected, dictator, etc.), the military's post-coup actions (walk away, lead a transitional regime, praetorianism, etc), or the circumstances surrounding a coup (massive protests, peaceful, etc). How the international community should respond to such coups is a different story. But an objective definition focuses on the details of the event itself, and in this case we have seen a leader forcefully removed from office by the state's military.
Different scholars might be interested in different research questions, and those questions might cause definitions to slightly vary. What we see as a general trend is that an executive is removed (or an attempt is made to remove them) through unconstitutional means by other members of the state apparatus (government, military, security services, etc). Politicians might attempt to frame events as coups or non-coups to meet political ends, as we will undoubtedly see with the Egyptian case.
For those interested, Clayton Thyne and I explored a number of definitions of coups for our 2011 offering in the Journal of Peace Research. Below I provide a draft version of a table summarizing these definitions.
To the above definitions I would also point to...
Milan Svolik's (in The Politics of Authoritarian Rule, Cambridge University Press) characterization of coups as "forced removal of an authoritarian leader by any regime insider, not necessarily the military." (original emphasis).
*Note that this project was specifically interested in authoritarian politics.
Goemans, Gleditsch, and Chiozza's Archigos Data Set on Leaders
Specifically, I would point to leader exits coded as 5-8 on their EXITCODE variable (page 3 here), which includes:
"Leader removed by domestic military actors" (with or without foreign support)" and "Leader removed by other domestic government actors" (with or without foreign support.