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A coup, or coup d’etat, derives from the French verb couper, which means to strike. Etat means "the state." It can be translated to a strike to the state, or a blow to a government. The term may refer to a military victory or overthrow of a government. It is usually a total victory that renders the acting government’s military powerless and thus signifies takeover of the government.
When people refer to the coup d’etat, they often call it a military coup. There are four types, according to Samuel Phillips Huntington. Huntington is a political scientist who believes most takeovers in the 21st century will be those where the people rise up against the government. The four types are:
- guardian, and
- bloodless coup.
Technically any coup can be bloodless. Takeover of a government is gained merely by threat and not by using violence. However, most examples involve the loss of many lives.
The breakthrough coup occurs when a revolutionary group overthrows the seated government and takes over as the new leaders. A guardian coup occurs when someone seizes top-level power from another, usually stating that doing so is necessary because of mass disorder in the state. A veto coup refers to the army having to put down rebellion and organization by the people of the state. This tends to be the worst kind because many civilians may be killed in the process.
Another type is the counting coup. In many Native American tribes, it was considered much greater honor to strike rather than kill an enemy. Some warriors had staffs, which were marked with the number of times they were able to perform a strike in battle, rather than in killing someone. Since "coup" to the Native American was still a French derived word, the idea of striking rather than killing may have been tied to the concept of “touché,” a touch of the opponent in dueling, rather than a kill.
Completely unrelated to battle is the use of the term to mean a victory or benefit in numerous different fields. A fundraising committee who gets a popular singer to sing at a charitable function would consider this a coup. Hosting the Olympics might be considered a coup to a country, just as getting to televise the Olympics is a coup to a television station.
The term can relate to politics in a non-violent way. For example, in 2006 the Democratic wins in the United States' House and Senate were considered a coup to the Democratic Party. Since this does confer some political power to the Democrats, this could be seen in loosest definition as a bloodless coup.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is a coup d'état?
A coup d'état, often simply called a coup, is the sudden and illegal seizure of a government, typically executed by a small group within the state establishment—often the military—to depose the existing government and replace it with another body, sometimes military-led or a chosen figurehead. Coups are characterized by their swift action, designed to take control before the current government can respond or defend its position.
How often do coups occur globally?
According to the Center for Systemic Peace's Coup d'État Project, there have been over 475 coup attempts worldwide since 1950, with around half being successful. The frequency of coups varies greatly by region and time period, with Africa and Latin America historically experiencing higher numbers of coups. However, the global trend has shown a decline in successful coups over the past few decades.
What are the common causes of coups?
Coups often arise from a combination of factors including political instability, weak governance, economic decline, and widespread corruption. Military dissatisfaction with the government, or the perception that the government is not acting in the nation's best interest, can also be a significant trigger. Additionally, external factors such as foreign influence or support can play a role in facilitating a coup.
What are the consequences of a coup for a country?
The aftermath of a coup can be profound and varied, ranging from political repression, civil unrest, and economic turmoil to potential civil war. Coups often lead to a breakdown in law and order and can result in the suspension of constitutional rights. International relations may be strained, leading to sanctions or aid cuts, which can further damage the country's economy and its citizens' well-being.
How can countries prevent coups from happening?
Preventing coups typically involves strengthening democratic institutions, promoting good governance, and ensuring the military's loyalty to civilian authority. Economic stability and equitable growth can reduce the grievances that fuel coups. Transparency, accountability, and the rule of law are also critical in preventing military interventions. International support for democracy and early warning systems can help identify and address potential coup risks.