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Rose Deller

January 11th, 2017

Book Review: The Power Triangle: Military, Security and Politics in Regime Change by Hazem Kandil

1 comment | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Rose Deller

January 11th, 2017

Book Review: The Power Triangle: Military, Security and Politics in Regime Change by Hazem Kandil

1 comment | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In The Power Triangle: Military, Security and Politics in Regime Change, Hazem Kandil utilises Egypt, Turkey and Iran as case studies through which to understand regime dynamics that enable movement between revolution, reform and resilience. Hesham Shafick praises Kandil’s account as the work of an exemplary scholar that makes a crucial theoretical contribution to the study of regime change by showing it to be a continuous phenomenon implicated in both turbulent and stable regimes. 

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Giulia Valeri and Edward Zuo and proof-read by Fei Yuan (Mandarin LN808-2, teacher Fei Yuan) as part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

The Power Triangle: Military, Security and Politics in Regime Change. Hazem Kandil. Oxford University Press. 2016.

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The recent uprisings in the Middle East revived three main approaches to studying political regimes. The first propagates the possibility of revolution, citing such examples as Tunisia and Egypt. Another is concerned with its impossibility: in other words, with the resilience of authoritarianism, drawing on cases of revolutionary failure in Iran, Syria and Bahrain among others. A middle ground was also put forth by students of ‘reform’, following on from George Lawson’s cutting-edge Negotiated Revolutions (2004), utilising cases like Morocco, Jordan and, of course, Turkey.

These three streams, however, often change positions. Taking Egypt as an example, from 2005-10 it was considered a case of negotiated reform. In January 2011, Egypt became a celebrated case of revolution. Two years later, a brutal coup put an end to those ambitions, and the country instead became a case of authoritarian resistance. The future is uncertain: literature on the Egyptian regime might keep going in circles between revolution, reform and resilience forever. The result is a library of swinging accounts, each describing the volatile situation of the regime in momentous snapshot but none comprehensively interrogating the power dynamics that construct such a ‘seesaw’.

Hazem Kandil’s book, The Power Triangle: Military, Security and Politics in Regime Change, fills this void, at least with regards to three of the aforementioned cases: Egypt, Turkey and Iran. This review will conclude by briefly highlighting his findings relating to each. But the main concern is the book’s theoretical contribution: that is, exposing regime dynamics through which the interchange between revolution, reform and resilience is made possible and plausible.

Utilising Bourdieusian social analysis to deconstruct the state, Kandil re-emphasises Jack Goldstone’s assertion that stability is as problematic a phenomenon as revolution. The variety of competing institutions within any regime makes it more of a contestation field than a unified front. Of course, common interests hold competing institutions together but there will always remain divided interests. Therefore, as Pierre Bourdieu succinctly puts it: ‘[state agents are] both accomplices and opponents – accomplices in the use of power, and opponents in competition’ (Bourdieu 2014 in Kandil 6). Thus, institutions ‘scramble to dominate the regime’ while making sure that the ‘regime itself is not destroyed in the process’. ‘Of course, sometimes they fail […] these are the mistakes that make radical change possible’ (6). Very rarely do they succeed in keeping the regime intact without manipulating and reorganising standing power arrangements.

the-power-triangle-image-2Image Credit: (Ho-Teng Chang CC BY 2.0)

In normal situations, regimes reform and reshuffle. In failure situations, revolutions occur. In the unusual cases in which internal contestations are absolutely absent, the regime is truly resilient. The latter, however, is hardly possible, for even if contestation is not there, the possibility of it suggests continuous reform and reshuffling. A volcano remains a volcano even when dormant, and a (possible) coup remains a coup even if inactive. Both require cautionary measures or may have drastic repercussions. In this sense, regime resilience is in practice a lowkey regime change. Regime change is the norm.

In the upper echelon of institutions lie the three major regime powers – the military, the security and the politicians. The first holds the armed power; the second intelligence power; and the third administrative power (in Weberian terms). Other powers, like the economic and the popular, manifest themselves forcefully within those institutions, but do not have the capacity to foster regime change except through one of the three. Ripped to its bones, the state is an apparatus of coercion and administration, and those two functions can be executed solely (albeit not most efficiently) through the three main institutions. By extension, they hold the power to bring the state to a standstill, thus enforcing regime change.

It is through the study of the struggle between these institutions that regime change in its variant forms can be illustrated. This struggle, however, is not always as obvious as a revolutionary moment. This explains why revolution grasps the majority of attention in regime change literature: it is particularly instrumental in fleshing out how power balances are crystallised within a given regime. Yet the study of this crystallisation moment is not sufficient to demystify how a particular power distribution is made possible at a specific point in time. More importantly, it is not sufficient for speculating as to how this power balance will develop and its future implications. Only a longitudinal study of the regime’s genesis can do this.

Kandil’s genesis of the regimes in Egypt, Turkey and Iran achieves those two goals successfully: first, it demonstrates why Egypt ended up as a police state, Turkey as a militarily ‘protected’ (and limited) democracy and Iran as a popular theocracy. There is not a particular causation that can be singled out in any of the three cases, but an amalgamation of collisions, collusions and historical contingencies played in favour of a particular balance of power between the three main power institutions leading to one form of state or another. Nonetheless, ‘the domination of one or more forms of power (politics, military, etc.) is always temporary because any crystallization produces conflict’ (5). Scratching beneath the surface of the regime type is therefore essential to understand what might follow next. This is the second empirical contribution of Kandil’s genesis.

If there is one main thing that Kandil should be praised for, it would be his ability to brilliantly speculate on future events. In Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt, Kandil suggested a possible military coup in Egypt if the military could not manage to find a ‘tamed’ ruling partner. The coup happened before the release of the book reviewed here. Here, he makes a more impressive speculation, this time concerning Turkey. Not only does he anticipate a military coup against Erdogan, but even the possibility that the security forces can help Erdogan overcome this (220) – exactly what we witnessed several months after the book’s publication. As for Iran, Kandil points at the ‘Revolutionary Guard’ as the ‘meta-institution, which […] could override all other regime institutions and transform Iran from a popular theocracy to a military dictatorship, or worse, a police state’ (130). There are no signs of this yet, but it remains a conceivable possibility.

Admittedly, chance plays a big role in demonstrating Kandil’s prudence just as it plays a key role in bringing one sort of political possibility to bear over others. Yet beyond this contingency, which is incorporated into Kandil’s model, his illustrative powers also lie in his detail-driven account. Unlike models that deal with revolution, reform or resilience as the singular norm, Kandil approaches the three as different sides of the same triangle. This triangle is ‘regime change’: a continuous phenomenon that defines both turbulent and stable status quos. Dissecting the ‘power triangle’ and studying each angle as both an autonomous institution and part of the wider regime constellation, Kandil identifies the complicated struggles beneath the surface unity of the regime. As such, he can see the vulnerability even within the strongest regimes (Turkey) and, inversely, the potential for contingent consolidation in the most trembling (Egypt).

The book is an extension and a constellation of the works of an exemplary scholar. Like his previous studies, it is a key reference for a historical sociology of Middle Eastern politics. But this book thereotically exceeds Kandil’s others in placing the three Middle Eastern cases within a wider context, suggesting the ‘power triangle’ as a generalisable analytic apparatus through which revolution, reform and resilience can be illustrated.

However, this aspiration for generalisation, although implicit, is also one of the few problematic aspects of the book. It is indeed a possibility – but asserting this requires further empirical interrogation, perhaps into more established democracies and countries with less militarised histories (such as in Scandinavia) and regimes where the economic dimension has been more definitive than the political in their genesis (Switzerland). Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Kandil’s model, as it stands, can be fruitfully applied to a plethora of nondemocratic states throughout the world. To expand it further, more work is required, which I hope Kandil will pursue.

Hesham Shafick is a PhD candidate at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL). Supervised by Kimberly Hutchings, his dissertation studies the genealogy of political violence against Islamists in Egypt. He previously studied at University College London, Washington College, University of California in Los Angeles and the American University in Cairo. He has also taught at the British University in Egypt. Read more by Hesham Shafick.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.


Review translated by Giulia Valeri and Edward Zuo and proof-read by Fei Yuan (Mandarin LN808-2, teacher Fei Yuan)



然而,这三个流派常会改变立场。以埃及为例,从2005年到10年,它被认为是谈判改革的一个例子。 2011年1月,埃及成为著名的革命案例。两年后,一场野蛮的政变结束了这些野心,而这个国家则成了威权主义抵抗的案例。未来是不确定的:关于埃及政权的文献可能永远在革命、改革和复原之间继续存在。结果是一个有着种种波动记录的图书馆,每个记录都描述了政权在某一时刻的不稳定状况,但没有全面询问构成这种“跷跷板”的权力动态。


Image Credit: (Ho-Teng Chang CC BY 2.0)

利用布迪欧社会分析来解构国家,坎迪尔再次强调了杰克戈德斯通的观点,即稳定与革命一样成为一个问题。任何政权内部各种竞争机构使其更像是一个争论领域,而不是统一战线。当然,共同利益将竞争机构联系在一起,但总会存在分歧的利益。因此,正如皮埃尔·布迪厄简洁地指出的那样:“[国家特工是]共犯和反对者 – 使用权力的同谋,以及竞争中的反对者”(Bourdieu 2014年在Kandil 6中)。因此,机构争夺主权政权,同时确保“政权本身不会在此过程中被摧毁”。 “当然,有时他们会失败[……]这些错误会使彻底改变成为可能”(6)。他们很少能够在不操纵和重组常备权力安排的情况下成功地保持政权的完整。


在机构的上层梯次是三大政权-军队、安全以及政治家。第一个拥有武装权力;第二个拥有情报权利;第三个拥有行政权力(对韦伯里语而言)。其他权利,如经济和大众, 在这些机构中有力地表现出来,但是除了通过三个机构之一以外,没有能力促进政权更迭。国家是一种胁迫和行政的机构,这两种职能只能通过三个主要的机构来执行(尽管不是最有效的)。通过扩展,它们掌握使国家处于停顿状态的权力,从而强制执行政权更迭。


坎迪尔对埃及、土耳其以及伊朗政权的起源成功地实现了两个目标:首先,它显示了为什么埃及最终成为了一个警察国家, 也显示了为什么土耳其成为了一个军事上“受保护”(和有限的)民主国家,再显示了为什么伊朗成为了一个受欢迎的神权国家。在这三种情况中的任何一种,没有一种特殊因果关系可以单独指出,而是碰撞、勾结和历史偶然性的综合作用,有利于三大权力机构之间的某种力量平衡,从而形成一种或另一种形式的国家。尽管如此,“一种或多种形式的权力(政治、军事等)的支配总是暂时的,因为任何结晶都会产生冲突”(5)。因此,抓挠政权类型的表面之下是理解下来可能发生的事情的关键。这是坎迪尔起源的第二个经验贡献。







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Rose Deller

Posted In: Africa and the Middle East | International Relations | Politics | Reviews in Translation | Translated Reviews


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This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.