The Varieties of Civilian Praetorianism & The Path to Post-Coup Democratization

My dissertation research explains the effect of civilian praetorianism – or the process in which organized civilian factions enable, promote, and support military coups – on post-coup democratization. Though civilians are often overlooked or characterized as pro-democracy forces and “the masses” in the study of coup politics, this project provides a more nuanced portrayal of their roles, preferences, and behaviors. Building on recent scholarly efforts to delineate military coup plotters by rank and identity, I apply this approach to the study of civilian praetorians and argue that coup support from different civilian constituencies yields different post-coup trajectories. To investigate this intuition, this project relies on an originally-built dataset on civilian praetorianism in realized coup attempts (in progress), documenting the social and political identities of civilian praetorians and their degree of support and involvement. I probe different causal mechanisms with case studies of different coup episodes in Sudan.

“Between Coups and Elections: Constitutional Engineering and Military Entrenchment in Sudan.” with Hager Ali and Jonathan Powell. Conditionally accepted at Africa Spectrum.

Description: This article investigates how armies re-entrench their power after thwarting democratic transitions. After the Sudanese military staged a coup in October 2021 and altered the transitional constitution, coup leader Abdelfattah al-Burhan announced the military’s withdrawal in July 2022 after. We argue that these constitutional changes leveraged existing institutions in the military’s favor to retain its influence over Sudanese governance. Using empirical evidence from Sudan’s previous military takeovers to evaluate the post-coup constitutional engineering, the analysis finds that military control over the electoral commission as well decentralisation will be determining factors moving forward. The timeframe between an anti-democratic coup and subsequent elections should be examined more carefully. Entrenching military power through elections requires a policy-setup in advance, usually undertaken in this period. Thus, we provide key insights into how armies incrementally consolidate their power without radically overhauling existing institutions.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter?” with Elizabeth Meehan. Forthcoming. in Strategies for Navigating Graduate School & Beyond. edited by Kevin G. Lorentz II, Daniel J. Mallinson, Julia Marin Hellwege, Davin Phoenix, and J. Cherie Strachan. American Political Science Association.

Description: Political science graduate students have flocked to join #AcademicTwitter in recent years. However, navigating the social media landscape can be daunting for graduate students trying to find their stride. We highlight six different approaches for Twitter among political scientists to provide graduate students a blueprint for navigating the app. Specifically, we note that Twitter can help students find research, promote their own work, ask for advice, and network among other uses. We conclude with tips on maintaining boundaries and ensuring one’s safety while using the app.

Revisiting Coup Conceptualizations Over Time.” with Jonathan Powell. 2022. International Studies Review.

Description: In this paper, we assess the different academic conceptualizations of coups d’etat against the January 6 insurrection led by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. We take note of the term’s origins in France as a reference to elites undertaking actions to preserve political power and track its development to reference the process of elite seizure of power, with a specific focus on the armed forces during the Cold War era. We find that the January 6 event does not fall under any of the academic parameters for coups d’état across time. However, this finding suggests that coup scholarship places disproportionate emphasis on one of several forms of irregular change or maintenance of power, a potentially troubling tendency given the relative decline of coups in recent decades. Future scholarship should do more to consider other forms of anti-democratic events as well as think about the practical and normative application of terminology.

Oil Wealth, Risk Acceptance, and the Seizure of Power.” with Jonathan Powell and Rebecca Schiel. 2021. Journal of Global Security Studies.

Description: Though oil wealth is associated with poor economic performance, repression, civil war, and other maladies, the resource is also associated with increased regime durability. We explore this paradox by investigating the influence of oil wealth on coups d’état. Prior findings on the relationship between oil and coups have been inconsistent, a trend we argue is attributable to the varied and sometimes invalid specification of the dependent variable. We theorize that the potential payoff of coups in oil-rich states incentivizes elites to be more risk acceptant when considering coup attempts. We consequently anticipate coup attempts are more likely in oil-rich states, but under conditions that are less likely to succeed. An assessment of a global sample offers strong evidence that oil-rich states are “cursed” with more attempted coups. However, oil rents are not associated with more successful coups. These results explain the curse/durability paradox and point to an understudied aspect of the oil curse and authoritarian survival.

“The Varieties of Civilian Praetorianism: Evidence from Sudan’s Coup Politics.” (Revise & Resubmit at Armed Forces & Society)
“Reporting Bias in Coup Datasets: Lessons from the Middle East.” with Jonathan Powell and Bailey Sellers. (Revise & Resubmit at International Studies Review)
“Following the Free Officers: Explaining Coup Contagion in the Middle East.” with Jonathan Powell.
Anti-Coup Strategies Should Address Civilian Coup Allies.” with Avery Reyna. Just Security. July 20, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary argues that the international community’s efforts to counter coups should recognize that military coup leaders often work hand-in-hand with different civilian constituencies. Civilians play different roles throughout the duration of coup politics but efforts to push coup leaders to cede power rarely focus on this element. Using examples from Egypt and Sudan, we argue that the international community should leverage its weight against entire coup coalitions – civilians and soldiers alike – and not simply focus on the latter.

Sudan’s Leader Says The Military Will Step Aside. That’s Not Likely.” The Washington Post(Monkey Cage). July 8, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary argues that despite Sudanese coup leaders’ claim that they would be withdrawing from the country’s political process, the strategic placement of their civilian allies will allow them to retain political power. Civilian collaboration in military coup politics is quite common and often extends beyond the initial power grab. In the case of Sudan, the coup leaders spent the eight months since their power-grab reintegrating civilian remanents of Omar al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime, stacking the bureaucracy and financial institutions with these actors. These elements, legitimated by international talks, can thus advance the coup leaders’ core interests despite the latter’s exit from politics. In the complicated politics of military coups, assuming a simple binary divide between “civilians” and “soldiers” obscures important details. And these assumptions may also miss the complex ways in which coup leaders retain political power — even as they claim to be stepping back.

Reflecting on Coup Risk in Mali.” with Avery Reyna. Political Violence at a Glance. June 14, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary uses CoupCast, a political forecasting tool reliant on machine learning, to assess Mali’s coup risk in May 2022 after coup allegations emerged. We show that whether or not the allegations held water, Mali saw all the conditions ripe for a coup as the second most at-risk country in the world in May. Coupled with insights from CoupCast and contextual developments, we emphasize that observers can move beyond a focus on vague coup allegations and instead consider whether a country has the actual conditions for a coup to occur.

Why We Must Understand Civilian Participation in Military Rule.” The Loop: the European Consortium on Political Research’s Political Science Blog. May 11, 2022.

Description: Part of the Loop’s Autocracies with Adjectives series, this piece of commentary calls for greater analytical attention to civilian participation in military regimes. While scholarship predominantly distinguishes between collegial military rule and personalized military rule, we lack a rigorous amount of attention to the feature of civilian participation. However, civilians often don fatigues and rule alongside officers across many different types of military governments. Further, these arrangements are open to a wide scope of variation. Drawing on examples across time and space, I document some important distinctions in how civilians come to participate in military rule. I conclude by noting that civilian participation matters beyond research. In particular, civilian participation can curb efforts to limit military intervention in politics and provide putschist officers with allies in the face of international demands for a civilian government.

When Civilian Protests Facilitate Coups d’état: Reflecting on Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Sudan.Political Violence at a Glance. April 14, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary reflects on the differences between Sudan’s April 2019 revolution, which toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir, and the counter-revolution of October 2021, which saw the armed forces thwart the country’s democratic transition. While both instances of civil disobedience sparked coup attempts, I argue that the events of 2019 were driven by an organic, cross-communal mass movement that remained independent of the armed forces. Conversely, the military and its civilian allies – former Darfuri rebel leaders – manufactured and funded pro-military protests to give the facade of public support for an anti-democratic coup. While observers have noted the democratic tendency of protest-sparked coups, Sudan’s divergent experiences in the last three years suggest that anti-democratic forces can use the facade of “people power” to achieve their objectives.

Don’t Forget the Coup Plots!: Why Thwarted Conspiracies Matter, too.” Mutiny Monitor. February 19, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary argues that researchers and observers alike should pay more mind to thwarted coup plots and conspiracies instead of discarding them due to potential ambiguity. Coup plots can serve as useful signposts of discontent towards the regime as well as signs that a variety of actors might be consolidating political power. I illustrate these considerations with historical and recent examples of coup conspiracies.

“The International Community, Coups, and Electoral ‘Attaboys.” with Jonathan Powell. Political Violence at a Glance. February 9, 2022.

Description: This piece of commentary argues that the international community’s typical demand that elections be held following successful coups d’etat has proven counterproductive, particularly in Africa. While post-coup elections once signaled the departure of coup leaders from political power, this trend has largely shifted. Coupists are in fact entrenching themselves politically with the use of elections or in spite of them. This trend interestingly coincides with the rise of executive aggrandizement and democratic backsliding, which coup leaders paradoxically point to as a key reason for their interventions into politics. We emphasize that the international community must go beyond the demand that elections be held and stress that coup leaders cannot hold power in any capacity.

“Decolonizing Coup Data: The Case of Syria in Coup Datasets.Mutiny Monitor. December 15, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary argues that researchers and producers of coup d’etat datasets have disproportionately relied on Western media outlets in their data collection, resulting in biased and underreported coup datasets. I make the case for integrating regional expertise and local sources when compiling large-N datasets, drawing on the case of Syria’s post-colonial coup events. Given the empirical and normative implications, researchers should make more serious efforts toward “decolonizing” data.

“Are Coups Really Contagious?” with Jonathan Powell. The Washington Post (Monkey Cage). November 22, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary assesses whether the uptick of coups in 2021 can be attributed to a “coup contagion” effect, in which recent coups in one country spark similar coups in other countries. We argue that while this year’s coups are unlikely to be contagious in that plotters are learning tactics from one another, coupists have calculated a modest – if tepid – response from the international community. We highlight that more attention should be afforded to post-coup developments as an important signal for contagion rather than the putsches themselves.

“Sudan’s Military Coup Seems to be Supported by Some Civilian Politicians. That’s Happened Before.” The Washington Post (Monkey Cage). October 25, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary uses my ongoing research on civil-military powersharing to assess Sudan’s Oct 25 coup against the civilian faction of the Sovereign Council, the country’s transitional government. Prior to the coup’s occurrence, a civilian splinter faction within the Council facilitated pro-coup protests on Oct 16, demanding that the military stage a coup and dissolve the government. Counterprotestors backed by the Council’s mainstream civilians countered these demands on Oct 21. Why would civilian politicians promote military rule? My ongoing research shows that once in power, fragile civil-military governments face a high risk of failure once their civilian members are bitterly fragmented. Deep divisions can lead civilian factions to draw the government’s military wing into the internal conflict, leading officers to back their preferred faction. Similarly, a divided civilian leadership is acutely vulnerable to predatory officers seeking to consolidate their own power within the government. Similar patterns emerged in Sudan’s history during the Bashir-Turabi government as well as in Baathist Syria and Iraq.

“Failed Coups but Successful Transition? Contextualizing Sudan’s Latest Coup Plot.” with Jonathan Powell. The Cairo Review of Global Affairs & Public Policy. October 12, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary addresses the September 21st failed coup attempt in Sudan, allegedly carried out by former military & civilian loyalists to deposed strongman, Omar al-Bashir. The attempt allegedly sought to thwart the ongoing democratic transition, causing many observers to question the future of a democratic Sudan. While these fears are not unwarranted given the subsequent tensions between the government’s civilian & military wings, we highlight that failed coups can sometimes yield some democratic gains. Specifically, thwarted plots can out opponents to the democratic transition, justify much-needed security sector reform, and rally support for the regime. We illustrate these points with different cases in the region and beyond.

“A Coup in Jordan? Why even Fabricated Plots Matter.” with Rosalie Rubio. Political Violence at a Glance. April 20, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary assesses the April 2021 coup plot in Jordan, allegedly spearheaded by King Abdullah’s brother, Prince Hamza. While folks have generally written the plot off as a fabrication, we highlight that even fabricated coup plots can shape a country’s political trajectory. We illustrate this through Jordan’s history with the Pan-Arab movement and offer insights into the current situation. The plot could have been fabricated to buy the king some desperately needed support among the population while it could have also emerged from the security services to maintain their recently-threatened position. While coup scholarship generally de-prioritizes coup plots because of their ambiguities, we stress that these events still play an important role in the story of political instability.

“Risk of Factionalism in Syria’s Postwar Civil-Military Relations.” Tawazun: Index of Arab Civil-Military Relations. February 15, 2021.

Description: This piece of commentary highlights key issues concerning the military’s depoliticization in postwar Syria, particularly within the context of a political transition. While security sector reformers will primarily focus on breaking the Ba’athist ruling order’s hold over the military, I highlight that these efforts must also address the military’s politicization by Syria’s other political actors. In particular, I highlight that as former armed groups develop into a polarized postwar elite, the integration of their former armed allies into the national military could promote factionalism within the ranks. Similar conditions also plagued post-colonial Syria, as disgruntled statesmen colluded with soldiers to topple their rivals and ascend to power. Not only does this phenomenon threaten stability, but it also threatens civilian rule as a whole, as illustrated when the military allies of postcolonial elites turned against them. I suggest that security sector reformers should a) enact policies to integrate former fighters into civilian life rather than military life and b) dedicate their efforts to teaching civilian statesmen the ethics of military professionalism.

“Sudan One Year After the Coup.” Political Violence at a Glance. April 29, 2020.

Description: This piece of commentary revisits the state of Sudan’s political transition to democracy following the ouster of 30-year strongman, Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese security forces remain highly influential in the transitional government and across the nation as a whole, which is generally antithetical to a successful democracy. However, I highlight extensive research on democratic transitions from military rule suggesting that this is a necessary evil in the short term to avoid the military’s veto of democracy and ensure the transition’s stability. I also offer a few avenues for civilians to work towards implementing successful control over the armed forces.

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