Also known simply as a coup(koo), it is the illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus. A coup d’état is considered successful when the usurpers seize and hold power for at least seven days. Although the coup d’état has featured in politics since antiquity, the phrase is of relatively recent coinage; the Oxford English Dictionary identifies it as a French expression meaning a “stroke of state”. The phrase did not appear within an English text before the nineteenth century except when used in translation of a French source, there being no simple phrase in English to convey the contextualized idea of a “knockout blow to the existing administration within a state”.
Typically, a coup d’état uses the extant government’s power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak says: ‘A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder’, thus, armed force (either military or paramilitary) is not a defining feature of a coup d’état.”
According to Clayton Thyne and Jonathan Powell’s coup dataset, there were 457 coup attempts from 1950 to 2010, of which 227 (49.7%) were successful and 230 (50.3%) were unsuccessful. They find that coups have “been most common in Africa and the Americas (36.5% and 31.9%, respectively). Asia and the Middle East have experienced 13.1% and 15.8% of total global coups, respectively. Europe has experienced by far the fewest number of coup attempts: 2.6%.”
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