Author: William Partlett

[William Partlett is an Associate-in-Law at Columbia Law School and a Nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.] This post is part of the Harvard International Law Journal Volume 53(2) symposium. Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below. The Democratic Coup d’Etat is an important article. First, and most obviously, this Article carries significant policy implications. The political transformations sweeping the Middle East and North Africa - known as the “Arab Spring” - have presented a wide range of conceptual challenges to policymakers and political scientists. Varol’s counter-intuitive argument that self-interested militaries might facilitate democratic transition in order to preserve their own position within the political system provides an important perspective on Egypt’s transformation. Although it is far too early to tell if the Egyptian military will remain an agent of democracy, Varol’s article puts the military’s actions in sharp focus. Recent developments have also added additional texture to Varol’s concept of the “democratic coup d’état.” Most relevant is the alliance between the military and judiciary that was on show in June when the Supreme Constitutional Court disbanded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament. Reporting from this event suggests that the military was not simply using legal institutions to pursue its own interests. Instead, key members of the Supreme Constitutional Court had been in close contact with the Egyptian military from the very beginning of Egypt’s political transformation to address how they will handle the risk that the broad popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood will allow it to unilaterally shape the Egyptian state. Tahani el-Gebal, Egypt’s deputy president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, justified this alliance with the military based on the argument that “[d]emocracy isn’t only about casting votes; it’s about building a democratic infrastructure.” This burgeoning relationship helps us better understand the dynamics behind what Varol calls “institutional entrenchment.” In particular, it might suggest that institutional entrenchment is the product of a shared counter-majoritarian interest in curbing any rising electoral tide of political Islam.