Category Archives: coups

Edward Luttwak in Cairo: On the Egyptian Military’s Pronunciamiento

Jamie over at Blood & Treasure has argued that actions by the Egyptian military are consistent with the advice given in Luttwak’s Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook. The book had been on my ‘to read’ pile for a very long time, so in the context of current events I decided to take a serious look at Luttwak’s manual. It’s very informative so far (although a bit outdated due to the advance of communications technology and the socio-economic changes that have affected much of the global South). But I think Jamie is wrong about event’s in Egypt being a textbook Luttwakian coup. According to Luttwak:

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 over the remainder

Rather, what has occurred is closest to what Luttwak calls a Pronunciamiento.

In its original ninetheeth-century Spanish version this was a highly ritualised process: first came the trabajos (literally the ‘works’) in which the opinions of army officers were sounded. The next step was the compromisos, in which commitments were made and rewards promised; then came the call for action, and, finally, the appeal to the troops to follow the officers in rebellion against the government…the theoretical purpose of the takeover was to ascertain [sic?] the ‘national will’ … unlike the putsch, which is carried out by a faction within the army, or the coup, which can be carried out by civilians using some army units, the pronunciamiento leads to a takeover by the army as a whole.

This seems like a reasonably good fit for what has occurred in Egypt over the past week. As others have suggested, the relevant comparisons to the Egyptian situation might be pre-2002 Turkey, Thailand, and some C20th Latin American regimes where the army regarded itself as having a supra-legal duty to intervene in politics for the good of the nation. The Thai case is relevant because of the apparent support of members of the urban middle class for the 2006 military curtailment of electoral democracy. In fairness, this is not necessarily a scenario that Egypt’s secular democrats ever wanted to find themselves in – three-corner political struggles generate strange situations like this.