THE BLOG
07/08/2013 10:24 pm ET | Updated Sep 07, 2013

AP Editors: Morsi Overthrow Can Be Described As 'Coup'

While the Obama administration has avoided describing the military overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as a "coup" -- a designation that could force cutting off U.S. aid -- news organizations will make their own determinations based on events on the ground.

On Monday evening, Associated Press editors advised staff that "coup now seems to be an accurate term for what transpired," according to a staff memo obtained by The Huffington Post.

AP editors had previously advised using descriptions such as a "military overthrow of the government." In the memo, editors wrote that the "military's subsequent actions -- locking up the leaders of the Morsi regime, arresting members of his political party, and cracking down on the pro-Morsi media -- have made the takeover seem more than a simple response to public pressure in that first night."

Still, while AP writers can use the word "coup," editors urged them to make clear that the military's toppling of the elected Egyptian president was "spurred by a popular revolt against the Islamist-dominated government, whose adherents resisted the coup."

The AP's decision is significant not only because the news organization's copy is widely distributed, but also given that many media outlets follow AP style and may similarly describe events in Egypt as a "coup."

The full memo from the AP's standards editors is below:

When the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government last week, placing him in house arrest, AP Standards took a wait and see approach to use of the word coup. We initially advised against describing the events as a "coup" because of what appeared to be wide public support of this step and the fact that the overthrow resembled a popular revolt as much as a classic military coup.

Instead, we advised using descriptions like "the military overthrow of the government."

However, the military's subsequent actions -- locking up the leaders of the Morsi regime, arresting members of his political party, and cracking down on the pro-Morsi media -- have made the takeover seem more than a simple response to public pressure in that first night. Violent clashes between pro-Morsi groups and those supporting his ouster, and the dissolution of parliament by the military-installed president laid bare deep conflicts in Egypt that are likely to continue.

Coup now seems to be an accurate term for what transpired, by the AP Stylebook's main reference dictionary:

Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, calls it "the sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority."

Therefore we'll now accept the word coup to describe the military intervention, but urge some qualifying explanation for the term applied to Egypt:

A change of power by military force spurred by a popular revolt against the Islamist-dominated government, whose adherents resisted the coup.

In a headline, coup is acceptable. However, stories should for completeness point out that the coup/takeover followed a series of widespread national protests.

Tom Kent
Dave Minthorn