What’s In a Name? Experimental Evidence of the Coup Taboo (with Sharan Grewal)
Does public support for military intervention decrease when it is labelled a coup? If so, how large is this “coup taboo”? We provide the first empirical evidence of the coup taboo across three large-scale survey experiments in Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia. Across all three countries, we find that the coup taboo is substantial, with support for the military hypothetically removing the president falling by 15 to 50 percentage points when labelled as a coup. These results underscore the importance of labels, and suggest that anti-coup norms may be superficial, decreasing support for military interventions only when referred to as coups.
International Studies Review, March 2022.
In this essay I use research on civilian support for and involvement in coups in the Middle East to contribute to the debate about Donald Trump’s efforts to remain in power beyond his legal term as the President of the United States. The essay introduces the concept of coup advocacy—or efforts by civilians to promote a coup in support of a wider political cause. I argue in favor of a simple definition of a coup d’état: a coordinated and rapid attempt to seize executive authority by violent or extralegal means. This definition centers classification of coups on the aims and actions of perpetrators, rather than their identity as civilians or soldiers.
International Studies Quarterly, January 2021.
I find that oligarchic elites veto attempts to establish civilian control over the armed forces when the prospect of democratization threatens their wealth and status. Establishing civilian control over the military thus depends not on the success of elite civil-military pacts but on the ability to balance revolutionary demands for social and economic justice with the interests of oligarchs and officers.
War on the Rocks, February 26, 2020
Despite Morales detractors’ best efforts to label his ouster as a revolution, it is hard to deny that this was a banal example of military intervention, not a unique something-by-another-name. The silver lining around the post-coup name-game is that both sides agree on the most important point: Those who are angry about Morales’ forced exit, as well as those who swear it was not a coup, both believe in the undesirability of army intervention over questions of political leadership.
The Washington Post, May 2, 2019
Using clues from my book project on the Middle East, I explain why Venezuela's Juan Guaidó has been recruiting soldiers for a military takeover and how past experience says similar efforts at coup advocacy have ended badly.
Armed Forces & Society, Autumn 2019
Why would politicians recruit soldiers for military coups d’état? This essay examines the conditions in which politicians recruit soldiers to seize power by investigating the understudied processes of military takeovers. Using British Foreign Office documents, Arabic language memoirs, and Polity data, I find that civilian statesmen in Iraq (1936) and Syria (1951) could not tolerate their civilian rivals’ incumbency but were unable to challenge them peacefully, so they recruited like-minded officers for coups.
Jadaliyya, July 17, 2018
A recurrent but overlooked theme in Middle East politics is that civilians—far from passive or lacking in agency—have played prominent roles in most of the region’s coups. Their stories resist the tendency to reduce the source of power in coup-prone states to tanks, bombs, and guns.
I am a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, in December 2018.
My book project, Politicians at Arms, uses Arabic language memoirs, as well as reports of the British Foreign Office and French Ministère des Affaires étrangères, to understand why party leaders advocated for military coups d'état in the post-colonial Middle East. Well-known Syrian and Iraqi coups were the product of revolutionary civil-military alliances, not the ambitions of officers. When civilians transfer political legitimacy to soldiers, the latter possess a dangerous combination of the pen and the sword.
My research has been published or is forthcoming in Armed Forces & Society, International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, and Democratization. I have also published essays in War on the Rocks, The Washington Post, and Jadaliyya.