Coup d'état

Coup d'état

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A coup d'état (English: /ˌkuːdeɪˈtɑː/, French: [ku deta]; plural: coups d'état; translation: strike (against the) state, literally: strike/blow of state)—also known as a coup, putsch, and overthrow—is the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government,[1][2][3] usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body; either civil or military. A coup d'état succeeds if the usurpers establish their dominance when the incumbent government fails to prevent or successfully resist their consolidation of power. If the coup neither fully fails nor achieves overall success, the attempted coup d'état is likely to lead to a civil war.

Typically, a coup d'état uses the extant government's power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak says, "A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder", thus, armed force (either military or paramilitary) is not a defining feature of a coup d'état.



Although the coup d'état has featured in politics since antiquity, the phrase is of relatively recent coinage;[4] the Oxford Dictionary identifies it as a French expression meaning a “stroke of State”. In 1646, James Howell used the phrase in the book Louis XIII;[citation needed] the first English usage dates from 1811, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte's deposing the Revolutionary Directory in 1799.[citation needed] Prof. Thomas Childers, of the University of Pennsylvania, indicates that the English language's lacking a word denoting the sudden, violent change of government derives from England's stable political traditions and institutions. French and German history are coloured with such politico-military actions.

Since the unsuccessful coups d'état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 (the Kapp Putsch), the Swiss German word Putsch (pronounced [ˈpʊtʃ]; coined for the Züriputsch of 1839) also denotes the same politico-military actions: in Metropolitan France, putsch denoted the 1942 and 1961 anti-government attacks in Algiers, and the 1991 August Putsch in the USSR; the German equivalent is Staatsstreich (the German literal translation of coup d'état), yet a putsch is not always a coup d'état, for example, the Beer Hall Putsch was by politicians without military support.

Usage of the phrase

Linguistically, coup d'état denotes a "stroke of state" (French: coup [stroke] d' [of] État [state]).[5] Analogously, the looser, quotidian usage means “gaining advantage on a rival”, (intelligence coup, boardroom coup). Politically, a coup d'état is a usually violent political engineering, which affects who rules in the government, without radical changes in the form of the government, the political system. Tactically, a coup d'état involves control, by an active minority of military usurpers, who block the remaining (non-participant) military's possible defence of the attacked government, by either capturing or expelling the politico-military leaders, and seizing physical control of the country's key government offices, communications media, and infrastructure. It is to be noted that in the latest years there has been a broad use of the phrase in mass media, which may contradict the legal definition of coup d'état.


The Pronunciamiento (Pronouncement) is a Spanish and Latin American type of coup d'état. The coup d'état (called golpe de estado in Spanish) was more common in Spain and South America, while the Pronunciamiento was more common in Central America. The Pronunciamiento is the formal explanation for deposing the regnant government, justifying the installation of the new government that was effected with the golpe de estado. The difference between a coup and a pronunciamento is that in the former, a military faction deposes the civilian government and assumes power, in the latter, the military depose the civil government and install another civil government.[6]


Coups d'état are common in Africa; between 1952 and 2000, thirty-three countries experienced 85 such depositions. Western Africa had most of them, 42; most were against civil regimes; 27 were against military regimes; and only in five were the deposed incumbents killed.[7] Moreover, as a change-of-government method, the incidence of the coup d'état has declined worldwide, because usually, the threat of one suffices to effect the change of government; the military do not usually assume power, but install a civil leader acceptable to them. The political advantage is the appearance of legitimacy, examples are the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, and the change of government effected in Mauritania, on 3 August 2005, while the president was in Saudi Arabia.


The political scientist Samuel P. Huntington identifies three classes of coup d'état:

  • Breakthrough coup d'état: a revolutionary army overthrows a traditional government and creates a new bureaucratic elite. Generally led by mid-level or junior officers. Examples are China in 1911, Bulgaria in 1944, Egypt in 1952, Turkey in 1960, Greece in 1967, Libya in 1969, Portugal in 1974 and Liberia in 1980.
  • Guardian coup d'état: the "musical chairs" coup d'état. The stated aim of such a coup is usually improving public order and efficiency, and ending corruption. There usually is no fundamental change to the power structure. Generally, the leaders portray their actions as a temporary and unfortunate necessity. An early example is the coup d'état by consul Sulla, in 88 B.C., against supporters of Marius in Rome, after the latter attempted to strip him of a military command. A contemporary instance is the civilian Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's overthrow by Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, who cited widespread civil disorder and impending civil war as his justification. In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the same grounds. Nations with guardian coups can frequently shift back and forth between civilian and military governments. Example countries include Pakistan, Turkey (1971 and 1980), and Thailand. A bloodless coup usually arises from the Guardian coup d'état.
  • Veto coup d'état: occurs when the army vetoes the people's mass participation and social mobilisation in governing themselves. In such a case, the army confronts and suppresses large-scale, broad-based civil opposition, tending to repression and killing, such as the coup d'état in Chile in 1973 against the elected Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens by the Chilean military. The same happened in Argentina throughout the period 1930-1983. The 20 July 1944 plot by parts of the German military to overthrow the elected National Socialist government of Adolf Hitler in Germany is an example of a failed veto coup d'état.[citation needed]

A coup d'état is typed according to the military rank of the lead usurper.

  • The veto coup d'état and the guardian coup d'état are effected by the army's commanding officers.
  • The breakthrough coup d'état is effected by junior officers (colonels or lower rank) or non-commissioned officers (sergeants). When junior officers or enlisted men so seize power, the coup d'état is a mutiny with grave implications for the organizational and professional integrity of the military.
  • In a bloodless coup d'état, the threat of violence suffices to depose the incumbent. In 1889, Brazil became a republic via bloodless coup; in 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan via a bloodless coup; and, in 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratglin assumed power in Thailand as the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.

The self-coup denotes an incumbent government — aided and abetted by the military — assuming extra-constitutional powers. A historical example is President, then Emperor, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. Modern examples include Alberto Fujimori, in Peru, who, although elected, temporarily suspended the legislature and the judiciary in 1992, becoming an authoritarian ruler, and King Gyanendra's assumption of “emergency powers” in Nepal. Another form of self-coup is when a government, having been defeated in an election, refuses to step down.

Resistance to coups d'état

Many coups d'état, even if initially successful in seizing the main centres of state power, are actively opposed by certain segments of society or by the international community. Opposition can take many different forms, including an attempted counter-coup by sections of the armed forces, international isolation of the new regime, and military intervention.

Sometimes opposition takes the form of civil resistance, in which the coup is met with mass demonstrations from the population generally, and disobedience among civil servants and members of the armed forces. Cases in which civil resistance played a significant part in defeating armed coups d'état include: the Kornilov Putsch in Russia in August 1917; the Kapp Putsch in Berlin in March 1920; and the Generals' Revolt in Algiers in April 1961.[8] The coup in the Soviet Union on 19–21 August 1991 is another case in which civil resistance was part of an effective opposition to a coup: Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, stood on top of a tank in the centre of Moscow and urged people to refuse co-operation with the coup.

Post-military-coup governments

After the coup d'état, the military face the matter of what type of government to establish. In Latin America, it was common for the post-coup government to be led by a junta, a committee of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces. A common form of African post-coup government is the revolutionary assembly, a quasi-legislative body elected by the army. In Pakistan, the military leader typically assumes the title of chief martial law administrator.

According to Huntington, most leaders of a coup d'état act under the concept of right orders: they believe that the best resolution of the country's problems is merely to issue correct orders. This view of government underestimates the difficulty of implementing government policy, and the degree of political resistance to certain correct orders. It presupposes that everyone who matters in the country shares a single, common interest, and that the only question is how to pursue that single, common interest.

Current leaders who assumed power via coups d'état

Title Name Assumed office Country Area of the World
Sultan Qaboos of Oman* 23 July 1970  Oman Middle East
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo 3 August 1979  Equatorial Guinea Sub-Saharan Africa
President Blaise Compaoré 15 October 1987  Burkina Faso Sub-Saharan Africa
President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir 30 June 1989  Sudan Sub-Saharan Africa
President Idriss Déby[9][10][11][12][13] 2 December 1990  Chad Sub-Saharan Africa
President Yahya Jammeh** 22 July 1994  The Gambia Sub-Saharan Africa
Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani* 27 June 1995  Qatar Middle East
President François Bozizé** 15 March 2003  Central African Republic Sub-Saharan Africa
Acting Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama 5 December 2006  Fiji South Pacific
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz*** 6 August 2008  Mauritania Sub-Saharan Africa
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi 25 January 2011  Egypt Middle east
President of the High Transitional Authority Andry Rajoelina 17 March 2009  Madagascar Sub-Saharan Africa

* Monarchs who overthrew their own fathers.

** Both Jammeh and Bozizé were subsequently confirmed in office by apparently free and fair elections.[14][15] The election confirming Jammeh was marked by repression of the free press and the opposition.[16] An opposition leader described the outcome as a "sham".[16]

*** Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was subsequently confirmed by a narrow margin in the Mauritanian presidential election, 2009, which were regarded as "satisfactory" by international observers.

Other uses of the term

The term has also been used in a corporate context more specifically as boardroom coup. CEOs that have been sacked by behind-the-scenes maneuvering include Robert Stempel of General Motors[17][18] and John Akers of IBM, in 1992 and 1993, respectively.[19][20]

Steve Jobs has attempted management coups twice at Apple Inc.; first in 1985 when he tried unsuccessfully tried to oust John Sculley and then again in 1997 which successfully forced Gil Amelio to resign. [21] [22]

See also


  1. ^ Coup d'etat: a practical handbook By Edward Luttwak p. 172 Quote: "Clearly the coup is by definition illegal, "
  2. ^ USAID[dead link]
  3. ^ Coup d'etat Definition from Auburn U. Quote: A quick and decisive extra-legal seizure of governmental power by a relatively small but highly organized group of political or military leaders...
  4. ^ Julius Caesar's civil war, 5 Jan 49 BC.
  5. ^ "In French “État” is capitalised, for denoting “sovereign political entity”". Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  6. ^ Edward Luttwak, Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook, Harvard University Press, 1969, 1980. ISBN 0-674-17547-6.
  7. ^ George Klay Kieh, Jr. and Pita Ogaba Agbese (eds.), The Military and Politics in Africa, Ashgate Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0754618765, pp. 44–5.
  8. ^ Adam Roberts, ‘Civil Resistance to Military Coups’, Journal of Peace Research, Oslo, vol. 12, no. 1, 1975, pp. 19-36, covers these and some other cases.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "BBC News - Chad country profile". 2011-05-12. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  11. ^ "Chad Conflict History - International Crisis Group". 1960-08-11. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  12. ^ "IRIN Africa | CHAD: Idriss Deby, a president under siege | Conflict | Governance". Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  13. ^ "Chad - Idriss Deby, a President Under Siege". 2006-04-19. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  14. ^ "Gambia, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". 2002-03-04. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  15. ^ "Central African Republic, 2008". Freedom House. 2004-05-10. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  16. ^ a b "The Gambia, 2008". Freedom House. 2004-05-10. Retrieved 2011-07-30. 
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ [4]
  21. ^ Seibold, Chris (2011-05-24). "May 24, 1985: Jobs Fails to Oust Sculley". Apple Matters. Retrieved October 8, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Apple Formally Names Jobs as Interim Chief". The New York Times (New York). September 17, 1997. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Coup d'Etat — Coup d État Voir « coup d’État » sur le Wiktionnaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d'état — Voir « coup d’État » sur le Wiktionnaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d’État — Coup d État Voir « coup d’État » sur le Wiktionnaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d’état — Coup d État Voir « coup d’État » sur le Wiktionnaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup D'État Du 23-F — Le coup d État du 23 février 1981, connu aussi comme le 23 F, eut lieu en Espagne et fut perpétré par un certain nombre d officiers de l armée. Sa partie la plus médiatique fut l assaut du Congrès des Députés par un groupe important de gardes… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d'Etat du 23-F — Coup d État du 23 F Le coup d État du 23 février 1981, connu aussi comme le 23 F, eut lieu en Espagne et fut perpétré par un certain nombre d officiers de l armée. Sa partie la plus médiatique fut l assaut du Congrès des Députés par un groupe… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d'état du 23-f — Le coup d État du 23 février 1981, connu aussi comme le 23 F, eut lieu en Espagne et fut perpétré par un certain nombre d officiers de l armée. Sa partie la plus médiatique fut l assaut du Congrès des Députés par un groupe important de gardes… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Coup d'État — [kude ta ], der; , s [kude ta] [frz., zu ↑ Coup u. frz. état = Staat] (veraltend): Staatsstreich. * * * Coup d État [kude ta], der; , s [kude ta; frz., zu ↑Coup u. frz. état = Staat] (veraltend): Staatsstreich …   Universal-Lexikon

  • coup d'etat — 1640s, from Fr. coup d étate, lit. stroke of the state (see COUP (Cf. coup)). Technically any sudden, decisive political act but popularly restricted to the overthrow of a government …   Etymology dictionary

  • Coup d'État — ● Coup d État action de force pour renverser les pouvoirs publics menée par une fraction des gouvernants. (On parle de putsch ou de pronunciamento en cas de coup d État militaire.) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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