Photo credit: Bora S. Kamel licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dissertation Overview

My dissertation is a study of counterrevolution, a phenomenon of tremendous historical and contemporary importance that, until now, has received no systematic book-length treatment in the social sciences. I understand a counterrevolution to be the reversal of a revolution – i.e., the restoration, in some form or another, of the ancien régime that was recently overthrown. Two main questions motivate the project. Why do some new revolutionary regimes come to be challenged by counterrevolutions? And why do some of these counterrevolutionary attempts actually succeed in overturning the revolution?

The project explores these questions at different levels and temporal scopes. On the one hand, I examine counterrevolution across the broad sweep of global history, studying where and when counterrevolutions have occurred from 1900 to 2015. On the other hand, I conduct a detailed assessment of one specific manifestation of the phenomenon, tracing the emergence and success of the 2013 counterrevolution in Egypt, a case that I have also studied in previous research.

Below is an overview of some of the data I collected for the project.

Cross-national data on counterrevolutions

We have very little data on counterrevolutions. Though we know anecdotally from cases like the White Movement in Russia, the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, and the Contras in Nicaragua that counterrevolutions are important, we don’t know how common they are or how frequently they succeed. For example, all three of these famous cases are actually instances of failed counterrevolution (in the sense that they were unsuccessful in restoring the ancien régime). How representative are they? Is Egypt’s successful counterrevolution in 2013 an anomaly?

For this dissertation I set about answering some of these questions by collecting cross-national historical data on counterrevolutions. Drawing on a dataset of revolutions built by Mark Beissinger, I researched every revolution that occurred between 1900 and 2015 and identified 99 discrete instances of counterrevolution. The data reveal that although counterrevolutions are relatively common, occurring after roughly half of all revolutions, successful counterrevolutions like Egypt’s are indeed rare: there have only been 22 successful counterrevolutions in the last twelve decades. The figures below lay out some geographic and temporal patterns in these data.

Global trends in counterrevolution

Historical trends in counterrevolution

Interviews with Egyptian elites

To effectively study Egypt’s counterrevolution I needed to speak to the individuals who had been involved in the actions and decisions that brought it about. So, for two-and-a-half years, I traveled to seven countries and ten cities to meet with and interview a wide range of Egyptians – politicians, activists, diplomats, government officials – who played a role in shaping the post-revolution transition from 2011 to 2013. I conducted nearly one hundred interviews in total. Though the identities of the interviewees and the transcripts of the interviews cannot be made public – many of the individuals took considerable risks in speaking to me and are under constant threat from the Egyptian state – the anonymized insights generated from them are a crucial source of data in the book.

Protest data from Egypt

In addition to interviews, I study Egypt’s counterrevolution using protest data, which allows me to trace the emergence of popular support for the 2013 coup. Working with an exceptional team of talented research assistants, I built a dataset of roughly 7,500 protests, marches, sit-ins, mass attacks, and other “contentious events” from the crucial eighteen month period preceding Egypt’s counterrevolutionary coup (January 1, 2012 to July 3, 2013). We relied on news articles from the Arabic-language Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, and coded over eighty variables for each event, including where it took place, how many people participated, and what tactics were used. Some trends from these data, including the weekly count of protests for the full eighteen months and their locations in Egypt and Cairo, are represented in the figures below.

Weekly protest count, January 1, 2012 to July 3, 2013

Location of protests in Egypt

Location of protests in Cairo

Photo credit: Bora S. Kamel licensed under CC BY 2.0