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The Democratic Coup d’État


Ozan O. Varol


Lewis & Clark Law School

September 5, 2011

Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2012

Abstract:     
This article examines the typical characteristics and constitutional consequences of a largely neglected phenomenon that I call the “democratic coup d’état.” To date, the academic legal literature has analyzed all military coups under an anti-democratic framework. That conventional framework considers military coups to be entirely anti-democratic and assumes that all coups are perpetrated by power-hungry military officers seeking to depose existing regimes in order to rule their nations indefinitely. Under the prevailing view, therefore, all military coups constitute an affront to stability, legitimacy, and democracy.

This article, which draws on fieldwork that I conducted in Egypt and Turkey in 2011, challenges that conventional view and its underlying assumptions. The article argues that, although all military coups have anti-democratic features, some coups are distinctly more democracy-promoting than others because they respond to popular opposition against authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, overthrow those regimes, and facilitate free and fair elections.

Following a democratic coup, the military temporarily governs the nation as part of an interim government until democratic elections take place. Throughout the democratic-transition process, the military behaves as a self-interested actor and entrenches, or attempts to entrench, its policy preferences into the new constitution drafted during the transition. Constitutional entrenchment may occur in three ways: procedural, substantive, and institutional. The article uses three comparative case studies to illustrate the democratic-coup phenomenon and the constitutional-entrenchment thesis: (1) the 1960 military coup in Turkey; (2) the 1974 military coup in Portugal; and (3) the 2011 military coup in Egypt.

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Date posted: September 5, 2011 ; Last revised: October 12, 2012

Suggested Citation

Varol, Ozan O., The Democratic Coup d’État (September 5, 2011). Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1922792

Contact Information

Ozan O. Varol (Contact Author)
Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )
10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
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