A Coup Is a Coup — Even If We Like Outcome

Calling the Overthrow of the Egyptian Government What It Is

Playing Games With Words: President Obama referred to the Egyptian coup as “a transition to democracy.”
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Playing Games With Words: President Obama referred to the Egyptian coup as “a transition to democracy.”

By Philologos

Published July 21, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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When is a military coup not a military coup? Whenever, so it would seem, an administration in Washington wants to say it’s something else.

Although, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank observes, “call[ing] the overthrow [of the Egyptian government] a ham sandwich won’t make it any less of a coup,” Washington has preferred to refer to the events in Egypt with such euphemisms as “a transition to democracy” (President Obama), “a complex and difficult issue” (White House press secretary Jay Carney) and “a very fluid situation” (State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki).

It’s anything but a coup — the reason being, of course, Section 508 of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which specifies that no aid from the United States be given “to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

Since the American government deems continued aid to Egypt from the United States to be crucial, and since getting Congress to reword the Foreign Assistance Act would be a slow and uncertain process, the path of least resistance is the one of denial. Do the dictionaries, such as my Webster’s New Collegiate, define a coup as “a sudden decisive exercise of force whereby the existing government is subverted,” which is exactly what the Egyptian army’s action was? Then let the dictionaries be damned.

Perhaps the administration should appeal to history, because as a matter of record, the first political coup ever to have been called that did not subvert an existing ruler at all. Rather, it was staged by one. If you have the patience to listen, here’s the story.

When, in 1610, Louis XIII of France succeeded his assassinated father, the popular Henri IV, he was only 8 years old and the country was ruled by his Italian mother, Marie de’ Medici, acting as regent. Even after Louis reached his majority at the age of 13, Marie de’ Medici continued to be the power behind his throne along with her close adviser, her fellow Florentine Concino Concini. Concini, however, was corrupt and power hungry, and he alienated both the French nobility and the general public. Moreover, the young Louis disliked and feared him. He had his own favorite at court — his hunting companion, the Duke of Luynes — and together they decided, as we might say today, that Concini should be terminated.


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