Cover: Coup-Proofing


Its Practice and Consequences in the Middle East

Published Jan 4, 2000

by James T. Quinlivan

A number of Middle Eastern states — e.g., Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — seem to be "coup-proof." That is, their regimes have created structures that minimize the possibility that a small group can seize power. These include effectively exploiting family, ethnic, and religious loyalties; creation of an armed force parallel to the regular military; development of multiple internal security agencies with overlapping jurisdiction that constantly monitor one another; fostering of expertness in the regular military; and adequately financing such measures. The regime is thus able to create an army that is effectively larger than one drawn solely from trustworthy segments of the population. These measures, however, lessen the states' usable military power. Nonetheless, Iraq has demonstrated the ability of a coup-proofed regime to survive despite overwhelming military defeat. Key surviving military and security elements, their loyalty to the regime, and their organized firepower won out over the poorly armed civilians and broken military units that opposed them following Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War.

Originally published in: International Security, v. 24, no. 2, Fall 1999, pp. 131-165.

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