By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
North Africa and the Middle East are no strangers to the coup d’état. These sudden and usually violent power grabs happen frequently, often to the detriment of the civilian population. An October 25 Sudanese coup has led to 39 deaths.
In late October, the Sudanese military executed a coup d’état, disrupting a transition of power that began when ruler Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in April 2019. Four months later, civilian groups who backed the revolution signed an agreement to share power with the military. The coup of October 25 occurred when security forces detained the new Sudanese prime minister and other civilians in a predawn raid, declaring their civilian government dissolved.
Since then, civilian protesters decrying the military coup have been killed.
Sudan is located in North Africa, though it’s often considered part of the Middle East. That region has seen several coups over the years. In his video series The Middle East in the 20th Century, Professor Eamonn Gearon, Professorial Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, provided more detail.
Not Just a Sound Birds Make
Cambridge Dictionary defines a coup as “a sudden illegal, often violent, taking of government power, especially by parts of the army,” according to Professor Gearon.
“On 30th June 2012, Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist politician, was sworn in as Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state in the country’s more than 5,000-year history,” he said. “Only a year later, following three days of mass protests, Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian army and its leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom Morsi had courted as an ally.
“General Sisi later exchanged his army uniform for a business suit, and in May 2014 was himself elected president.”
Professor Gearon pointed out that when it comes to legality, many who defended al-Sisi’s overthrow of the fairly elected Morsi claimed the army acted in accordance with the protests demanding Morsi’s removal from office. However, by this definition, any governmental overthrow when demanded by enough people is justified.
“But this is, to say the least, problematic,” he said. “Who decides if the crowds are big enough, or if their demands are legitimate? The army? Such a system would make a mockery of democratic transitions.”
Domestic vs. Imported
“Another point to bear in mind is whether a coup is genuinely homegrown, or driven all or in part by foreign powers, with their own interests and ideas,” Professor Gearon said. “The Cold War and US-Soviet superpower rivalry formed the backdrop to many of the events we’re considering in the Middle East and North Africa during the 1950s and ’60s.”
For example, the 1953 ouster of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was a considerable foreign-backed overthrow of a Middle Eastern ruler. The plan was eventually revealed to have been planned by the CIA and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6.
“One example of a constitutional coup took place in Tunisia in November 1987 when Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali overthrew President Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless seizure of power,” Professor Gearon said. “Ben Ali got several doctors to sign a declaration that Bourguiba was medically unfit to be president, as per Article 57 of the country’s constitution.
“In what might also be called a medical coup, Bourguiba was overthrown with a stroke of the pen.”
Ben Ali assumed power that same day and remained in power for more than 20 years.
Political turmoil is known worldwide, and coups have happened regularly throughout the Middle East and North Africa, often leaving civilians in the lurch.