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Coup d'état

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A coup d'état (derived from French; pronounced /ˌku deɪˈtɑ/ also known as a coup, putsch, or pronunciamiento) is a sudden seizure of government power in a state, by a group seeking to depose the current ruling body and replace it with a new one.

A coup d'état often results in a significant disruption of the social order in the state in which it occurs, often resulting in civil war or the establishment of a military dictatorship. A coup which immediately follows another coup is known as playing king of the hill a counter-coup.

Although the term "coup d'état" has been around for centuries, their frequency has increased dramatically in the 20th century due to the rise of the modern state with its professional bureaucracy and standing armed forces, which makes it significantly easier for groups to divorce the ruling apparatuses of the state (like the bureaucracy or army) from the individual leadership of the person or group that the people staging the coup wish to oust.[1]

Egypt, Myanmar/Burma, Thailand, and Turkey are just a few of the modern nations in which notable coups have occurred. Business Insider called Iran's meddling in Lebanon a bloodless coup.[2]

Due to their power to alarm and confuse (despite their vagueness), all variants of "coup" terminology are notorious favorites of the conspiracy theorist fringe, and particularly of the "alternative news" outlets that feed their paranoia.

Features of a coup[edit]

But a failed coup is practice for a successful coup.
—Timothy Snyder, historian and author of On Tyranny[3]

Coups are distinct from revolutions in that coups usually do not involve large scale popular movements like revolutions do, i.e. coups are typically directed by small, elite groups with an agenda without involving the larger populace, most often involving sections of the military, police, or other security force rather than the populace at large. Coups are most effective in countries with poor economic conditions and low levels of development, because these countries tend to have populations that are both too far removed from political activity (usually due to illiteracy, poor education, or an actual distance exacerbated by poor infrastructure) and too concerned with their material conditions (hunger, poverty, poor living conditions) to care about the politicking occurring among various elite factions in the capital.[4] This allows one elite group to oust another elite group without worrying about popular reactions against the coup. Impoverished African and Latin American countries, for this reason, seem to be particularly susceptible to frequent coups and counter-coups.

There is a classic pattern to a traditional military coup, particularly in the developing world. Things normally run something like:

  1. A military strongman or group of soldiers decide they would like to have more power, often taking advantage of moments of crisis: the death/resignation of a leader, war, or another coup (successful or failed).
  2. Armed forces loyal to the coup leaders storm key locations, such as the TV station, post office HQ, government buildings, communications infrastructure.
  3. The new leader goes on television and announces that he is now in control due to the failings of the previous government.
  4. The new leader is hopefully legitimized by some authoritative figures, e.g. royalty, ministers, other military leaders, prominent judges or jurists, neighbouring regimes.
  5. This is followed by a campaign of repression (which should be careful not to antagonise the military, although you can do what you like to people without guns), but if there is wider resistance, the regime may face popular protests or even civil war.
  6. Coups can lead to lasting dictatorship or military rule, either by an autocrat or military junta, but they can also see the new leader seeking to legitimise themselves with a (possibly fraudulent) election, or even handing over power to some trusted figure.

If done decisively and effectively, a leader can seize control with minimal resistance, and swiftly establish control. If done less successfully, the new leader will face either widespread internal opposition, protests, and possible counter-coups, or else external pressure such as sanctions or diplomatic activity, up to and including invasion by other states who may claim to be "peace-keeping".

Although the term coup refers to a takeover by elements within a country, coup plotters can have considerable external support such as Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, both of which relied on US government support via the CIA.[5][6]

Types of coup[edit]

Bloodless coup[edit]

A bloodless coup refers to a coup that does not involve an assassination or use of military force. A bloodless coup involves unconstitutional or illegal activities in order to seize power from a democratically-elected government. Examples include widespread election fraud, an unjust impeachment, bribing people to leave office, or ignoring or overriding the lawful orders of the president, prime minister, or legislative body.

Often it involves a military leadership taking power with the threat of military force, but no actual shooting (usually because the government surrendered before shots could be fired). An example is Phoumi Nosavan in Laos, who was sacked as minister for national defense in 1959 and promptly staged a coup, sending in paratroopers to occupy government infrastructure. With the support of King Sisavang Vatthana, he took over as leader of the government.[7] Another example was in Libya in 1969, where a group of army officers staged a coup but met with no resistance and indeed significant support from both the army and wider population; this led to the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi.[8]


A counter-coup is a coup following another coup, often to overthrow the original coup's leaders.[9] An example is Kong Le's coup by a battalion of paratroopers in Laos on 10 August 1960, following deeply corrupt elections in April that year. This overthrew another military strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, who had come to power in December 1959 in a bloodless coup with the approval of the king.[10] Another example is the 1909 Ottoman countercoupWikipedia where a group of traditionalists and Islamists tried to reverse the Young Turk RevolutionWikipedia of 1908; they were defeated.

Even more confusing is a coup within a coup, where someone supports a coup, only to overthrow the original coup leaders and take power himself. This is the method Napoleon Bonaparte used to (ultimately) become Emperor in the Coup of 18 Brumaire:Wikipedia Abbé Sieyès and Talleyrand planned a coup against the Directory, and hoped to use Napoleon merely as military muscle, but history shows how that turned out.[11]


A self-coup or autocoup (autogolpe in Spanish) occurs when someone who's already a leader uses unlawful means to give themselves more power by annulling or overthrowing democratic bodies such as the legislature, often relying on the loyalty of the army. It's what you do when you're already in charge but just don't have enough power because parliament or congress keeps voting against your plans or the courts keep annulling them. It allows a president to rule by decree rather than have to rely on members of the legislature to approve budgets and laws.[12]

Examples include:

  • Alberto Fujimori in 1992 — The Peruvian president relied on the support of the military to dissolve Congress and suspend civil liberties and rule by decree. This was motivated by a mixture of his hatred for rival political forces and a desire to clamp down on the Shining Path guerrillas without worrying about civil liberties or casualties. As Peru is a country familiar with coups, he appeared on TV and straightforwardly announced what he was doing, claiming he had no alternative. Polls showed that many Peruvians approved of his decision.[13]
  • Boris Yeltsin in 1993 — With the Russian parliament obstructing his plans for capitalist utopia, Yeltsin unlawfully dissolved both houses of parliament (which were still full of communist-era representatives) and used the excuse of opponents storming of the TV station to get the Russian army to shell the White House, a government building used by the parliament. The west supported Yeltsin, and he got away with it, introducing a new constitution and consolidating his power.[14][15]
  • Thanom Kittikachorn in 1971 — The Thai prime minister launched a self-coup in 1971, dissolving parliament and appointed himself Chairman of the National Executive Council, claiming this was necessary to combat the communist menace. Protests by students ended his rule 2 years later, though in 1976 he returned from exile to help launch the 1976 coup that put Thanin Kraivichien in power.[16][17]
  • Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851 — the elected French leader decided to become emperor (Napoleon III).[18]
  • Donald Trump, President of the United States, attempted a failed self coup on January 6th, 2021. He fomented conspiracy theories that he actually didn't lose reelection and that it was stolen from him by Joe Biden, so Trump personally incited his supporters to storm the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election. His supporters deliberately tried to assassinate as many Congress people as possible, notably House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence, having built a gallows and carried nooses while chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" Trump refused to send in the National Guard. Capitol Police (filled with Trump supporters) let the mob into the building where they caused at least four deaths and forced Congress to evacuate the building until the National Guard, this time under Pence's orders, arrived and retook the building.
  • Viktor Yanukovych attempted to pass anti-protest lawsWikipedia (also known as "dictatorship laws") in January 2014 not long before being overthrown by Euromaidan.[19]:131-138

The cranks who cry wolf[edit]

The term "soft coup" has often been used among conspiracy theorists (e.g. Globalresearch,[20] Zero Hedge,[21] Natural News[22]), but has also been used more sparingly in professional journalism.[23][2]

As noted above, variant terms (e.g. "counter-coup") also see widespread crank use.[24]

A certain crank, the career of which is built on proverbially tickling the Bubba nerve of his listeners with a gigantic cartoon feather, has also found convenience in the term, as "soft coup" is basically a convenient way of saying (and we paraphrase):[25]

You know [silly revolutionary scenario] that I've been saying is right around the corner [since 1995[26]]?? Well, IT IS happening, but softly — so even though it's not obvious that it's even happening at all, that just means it's happening slowly RIGHT NOW!!

Similarly, talk of "soft coups" is a great clickbait-generating way to package wild speculation on various imaginary power struggles that are allegedly going on RIGHT NOW but just outside of view — e.g. inside the Pentagon.[27] Certainly a place into which Alex Jones (of all people) is likely to have privileged access.


The following countries have experienced notable coups or coup attempts.

  • Argentina — Had several: in 1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976 only in the XXth century. The country has been a boisterous democracy since 1983.
  • Bolivia — Had experienced more than 190 coups and revolutions in less than 200 years of independence.[28]
  • Brazil — The first in 1889, a coup that removed the ruling monarch Dom Pedro II and established a Republic. The second, in 1937, implemented the Estado NovoWikipedia dictatorship that would last until 1945. The last one happened in 1964, in which a military junta took over. Democracy returned in 1985.
  • Burkina Faso - Has had several. The latest one, occurring on September 30, 2022, was when the military overthrew Interim President Paul Damiba over his alleged inability to effectively combat the Islamist insurgency in the country. Notably, Damiba himself was installed in a coup just eight months prior, making this a so-called "coup within a coup."[29]
  • Chile — Had several. In the most notable, the democratically elected president Salvador Allende was deposed by one of his generals, Augusto Pinochet, in 1973. Pinochet ruled until 1990.
  • Cuba — Notably in 1952, when Fulgencio Batista overthrew the democratic government when it looked like he was about to lose the next election and installed a de facto military dictatorship, which would set the stage for the Cuban Revolution.Wikipedia
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo — several, first in 1960 against Patrice Lumumba,Wikipedia then another coup by Mobutu in 1964, with failed coup attempts in 2011 and (allegedly) in 2022.
  • DominicaOperation Red Dog, fortunately failed.
  • Egypt — e.g. 2013, when the democratically-elected (but allied with Islamist Muslim Brotherhood) Mohamed MorsiWikipedia was overthrown in a coup that installed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as President of Egypt. Notably, democratic backslidingWikipedia has occurred since then, with el-Sisi cracking down on political opponents and dissent with the excuse of "crushing Islamism".[30]
  • Equatorial Guinea — several including 1979 and 2018 (failed), but most notoriously a 2004 plot involving British and South African mercenaries and allegedly Margaret Thatcher's son Mark.[31]
  • France — Following the French Revolution, then at various dates, and with a more recent attempt in 1961 by military leaders opposed to Algerian independence.[32]
  • Germany — Various failed actions following World War I, some involving Hitler, and then Hitler's successful usurpation of power in the 1930s
  • Greece — Military coup in 1967
  • Guatemala — Notably in 1954 when the democratically elected Jacobo ÁrbenzWikipedia was overthrown with help from the CIA
  • Hawaiʻi — Previously an independent kingdom, the U.S. took it over after a coup led by white American planters.
  • Indonesia — A failed coup in 1965 led to a ruthless crackdown on alleged communists.[33]
  • Iran — Notably in 1953 against Mohammad Mossadegh
  • Iraq
  • Japan — Failed one in 1970 by Yukio Mishima, who would commit seppuku shortly afterward
  • Laos — Several
  • Liberia — Notably 1980
  • Libya — Military coup in 1969
  • Myanmar — Most recently in 2021[34]
  • Paraguay — Among others, the one in 1954, led by Alfredo Stroessner. 35 years later, in 1989, Stroessner would be victim of a coup that would finally restore democracy in Paraguay.
  • Peru — Several, notably Alberto Fujimori's autocoup in 1992
  • Portugal — Many coups, especially for an European country. In 1910, a coup deposed the King Manuel II and abolished the monarchy. Seven years later, a coup would estabilish the Sidónio PaisWikipedia dictatorship and another one, in 1926 etabilished the Ditadura Nacional,Wikipedia that would culminate a few years later in the fascist António Salazar government. In 1974, a coup turned into a wider popular protest leading to democracy.[35]
  • Spain — Notably 1936, which eventually led to Francisco Franco's rise.
  • Sudan — In 2019, Omar Al-Bashir was ousted after economic hardship and South Sudan becoming independent.
  • Thailand — Too many to count. Interesting enough, the monarchy remained unscathed through all of them. King Bhumibol Adulyadej,Wikipedia who ruled for 70 years, saw almost a dozen coups during his reign.
  • Timor-Leste — In 1975, when the UDT tried to prevent the pro-independence Fretilin from gaining power, and a later failed one in 2006.
  • Turkey — Failed one in 2016, which mostly resulted in Erdoğan consolidating more power.
  • United States — In 2021, Donald Trump tried to self-coup the US government. The Wilmington insurrection of 1898,Wikipedia when white supremacists overthrew the FusionistWikipedia government of Wilmington, North Carolina, is a sub-national example of a coup.[36]
  • Uruguay — Notably in 1973, led by Juan María Bordaberry.Wikipedia
  • Zimbabwe — In 2017, long-time "president" Robert Mugabe was forced to resign by the military.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Luttwak, Edward N. *Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook,* 2nd edition 2016
  2. 2.0 2.1 Iran just pulled off a 'soft coup' in Lebanon by Alex Rowell (Oct. 24, 2016, 12:29 PM) Business Insider.
  3. American democracy survived its Reichstag fire on Jan. 6. But the threat has not subsided. by Dana Milbank (July 15, 2021) The Washington Post.
  4. Luttwak, Edward N. *Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook,* 2nd edition 2016
  5. RS#01: Background on the Guatemalan Coup of 1954, Baltimore County History Labs Program
  6. CIA admits role in 1953 Iranian coup, The Guardian, Aug 19, 2013
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Phoumi Nosavan.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on 1969 Libyan coup d'état.
  9. Countercoup, Merriam-Webster Online
  10. See the Wikipedia article on 1960 Laotian coups.
  11. Coup of 18–19 Brumaire, Britannica
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Self-coup.
  13. The 'Self-Coup' That Rocked Peru, Newsweek, April 19, 1992
  14. Russia's 1993 crisis still shaping Kremlin politics, 25 years on, Deutsche Welle, 2018
  15. See the Wikipedia article on 1993 Russian constitutional crisis.
  16. See the Wikipedia article on Thanom Kittikachorn.
  17. Coup in Thailand, New York Times, Nov 18, 1971
  18. See the Wikipedia article on 1851 French coup d'état.
  19. The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (2018) Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 0525574468.
  20. The Soft Coup Collapses – CIA Bluffing, Russia Did Not Hack, Blackmail Revealed – What Next? by Robert David Steele (January 09, 2017) Global Research
  21. A "Soft Coup" Attempt: Furious Trump Slams "Secret" CIA Report Russia Helped Him Win by Tyler Durden (Dec 10, 2016 9:11 PM) Zero Hedge
  22. TREASON: Left-wing media attempting a “soft coup” in America by hyperventilating over self-contrived Russian conspiracy fabrication by Mike Adams (Saturday, December 10, 2016) Natural News
  23. Who is running Algeria? Power struggle leads to rumours President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been ousted and secretly replaced by his brother in a 'soft coup': Rumours of a mysterious clique seizing control of the country are causing jitters throughout North Africa by John Hall (Thursday 24 December 2015) The Independent.
  24. InfoWars: Breaking: Democrat Counter-Coup Against Trump in Progress
  25. InfoWars: Soft Coup By Patriot Americans Is Happening
  26. InfoWars' LinkedIn page claims they were founded in 1995.
  27. InfoWars: Facebook Mentions: Pentagon Soft Coup
  28. The Fall of Evo Morales
  29. "In Burkina Faso, a coup within a coup" - The Washington Post. Published Oct 1, 2022.
  30. "As long as we have political Islam, there will be instability"
  31. Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot, BBC News, 3 November 2009
  32. See the Wikipedia article on Algiers putsch of 1961.
  33. What the United States Did in Indonesia, The Atlantic, Oct 20, 2017
  34. Myanmar coup: What is happening and why?, BBC News, April 1, 2021
  35. 1974: Rebels seize control of Portugal, BBC News On This Day
  36. THE WILMINGTON COUP D'ÉTAT OF 1898, University of North Carolina Wilmington]
  37. See the Wikipedia article on Self-coup.