In an effort to explore the ongoing ramifications of political change in the region, Jadaliyya hereby launches its Summer of Coups series, which delves into the political, economic, social, and/or cultural dynamics of coups—both historical and contemporary—as well as their aftermaths.
Like other parts of the world, the MENA region is currently experiencing a rising tide of authoritarian militarism and the consolidation of modified constellations of power. Coups td’état have historical precedence throughout the region and therefore loom large in the political legacies and cultural imaginaries. Much of the contemporary social and political debates in Turkey and Egypt for example, can be traced back to the 1980 and 1952 coups, respectively. The 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey instigated a long-term state of emergency and hastened the major transformation of state institutions that had been underway, something surveillance and ruptured social fabric. In Mauritania, military leaders remain touted as the most powerful figures in the country after their successful coup in the summer of 2008. The history of coups in Syria (several in 1949, 1961, 1963) and Iraq (1958, 1963, 1968), for instance, have hardened emerging leaders and parties whose main concern became the building of coup-proof regimes. The 1952 coup in Egypt generated a political order in which “civilianized” military officers dominated politics and military institutions maintained significant political and economic privileges.
Yet coups, failed or aborted, have also had an important part to play in other countries less associated with or analyzed with reference to coups. In Jordan, an alleged coup attempt in 1958 provided the pretext for the monarchy to effectively suppress and roll back the democratic and popular gains made by opposition groups during that decade. Similarly, in Morocco, the failed coup attempts during Hassan II’s reign in the 1970s (most notably during the summers of 1971 and 1972) have had an enduring impact on the structure of the country’s military and police, as well as their relations with the monarchy, on the one hand, and society on the other. In Lebanon, a country often less associated with coups, the attempts in 1949 and 1961 highlight important processes underway with state institutions, the military, and incumbent-opposition dynamics. More important, the aftermath of coups in all of these cases featured important transformations in the landscape of political parties as well as the coercive powers of various state institutions.
Contextual similarities can be traced in the revolutionary activities that have arisen in the Gulf, Sudan, Palestine, and others. Furthermore, the study of coups offers a unique avenue by which to examine the relationship between various actors, both domestic and foreign. The CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran stands as one of the most brazen examples of foreign intervention in the Middle East in the last century. The 2007 Hamas-Fatah conflict in Gaza resulted in the political separation of the Palestinian territories and also featured competing foreign interests in a state of military occupation. The role of Islamist movements has also come to bear on the involvement of state militaries in national politics, such as in the Algerian military’s intervention against an impending Islamist victory in the 1991 elections, leading to a destructive decade-long civil war. In the case of Sudan’s 1989 coup, Islamist leader Hasan al-Turabi joined forces with the military’s Omar al-Bashir in a rare moment of Islamist-military collaboration in the Arab region.
Other cases highlight the continued relevance of coups in relation to the very different conditions, dynamics, and legacies they engendered. These include, but are not limited to, the 1913 Committee of Union and Progress coup in the Ottoman Empire, the 1921 Reza Khan coup against the Qajar dynasty, the Golden Square coup of Iraq in 1941, the 1953 coup deposing Prime Minister Mossadegh in Iran, the 1964 Saudi coup by Faisal bin Abul Aziz ibn Saud against his brother King Saud, and the 1996 palace coup in Qatar which featured Hamad al-Thani’s seizing the throne from his father Khalifa al-Thani. Such cases highlight both the limits and the possibilities of the coup td’état as a conceptual and comparative framework.
Understanding the causes, dynamics, and consequences of coups past and present thus offers a prism onto wider social, political, economic, religious, and cultural phenomena across the Middle East and North Africa. Examining these historical moments offers an opportunity to put forth a “critique of violence,” posing questions about the contours and boundaries of state violence, political leadership, and normative assumptions about both.
In the Call for Papers, Jadaliyya thus sought articles, roundtables, pedagogical resources, multimedia art, and other contributions that provide critical insights on coups and putsches, attempted or aborted, successful or not, past and present. We also welcome comparative perspectives from other regions of the world that seek to challenge the insularity of knowledge production on the MENA region and its alleged relationship to coups td’état, highlighting the globality of modern political phenomena or investigating the historical connections within and across world regions.
To begin our series, we present four articles relevant to the theme. First, Drew Kinney draws upon a regional analysis on the role that civilians have played in instigating and carrying on the kinetic momentum of coup movements across the Middle East.
The Invisible Line: Soldiers and Civilians in the Middle East
Next, Robert Flahive analyzes how the Egyptian development plan Cairo 2050 is being implemented in a way that consolidates the reach of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regime's security apparatus.
Regime-Security Urbanism: Cairo 2050 & Beyond in al-Sisi’s Cairo
Anya Briy interviews Murat Birdal on Turkey's Academics for Peace trials, which was a response to the Erdoğan government's continued human rights abuses in the Kurdish region of Turkey. Birdal explains in this interview that the failed coup of 2016 afforded Erdoğan nearly unlimited powers with severely circumscribed legal oversight, which has allowed him to persecute those in academia, journalism, and any other sites of non-violent resistance.
Academics for Peace Continue Standing Trials: An Interview with Murat Birdal
Finally, the NEWTON Editors selected a bouquet of NEWTON interviews on books that have been published on this theme, showcasing the continued relevance and importance of studying these historical threads.
NEWTON Bouquet, "Summer of Coups"
We hope you find this series as timely and enlightening as we do. We also welcome further submissions that add new and fresh perspectives on the topic of coups in the Middle East and North Africa. Submit your articles here or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jadaliyya Editors