Latin America holds lessons for understanding—and pointing the way through—the current upheaval in Egypt. As Egypt enters a new phase of polarization following the military intervention in the wake of massive protests against its elected leader, recent Latin American experience points to the risks of moving forward without addressing the roots of this polarization. It also shows some of the requirements for constructing a democratic bargain to overcome the social and political exclusion of important sectors of society.
In Latin America, 13 leaders were forced to end their terms prematurely, without having been constitutionally impeached, between 1990 and 2009. Eight of these cases involved intense citizen mobilization and mass protests in combination with military intervention or irregular congressional impeachment. Some scholars have called these “civil society coups” or “impeachment coups,” in reference to either the combination of traditional military intervention with massive citizen protest, or congressional removal of an executive without following constitutional procedures. The Egyptian coup, which has been justified by some as representing the demands of a majority of citizens or a best-case scenario for preventing further bloodshed, is reminiscent of these experiences.
The coups in Latin America generally did not strengthen Latin American democracies, however. The different outcomes of coups in two Latin American countries in particular—Venezuela and Honduras—illustrate the need for all sides to participate in constructing the democratic bargain, and the risks involved in failing to include them. In the first example, in Venezuela, the ousted president was reinstated; in the second, in Honduras, he was not.