The post-WWII era saw junior military officers launch revolutionary coups in a number of post-colonial states. How did these events transform colonial-era state elites? We theorize that the inexperienced leaders of revolutionary coups had to choose between purging threats and delivering radical policies, leading to important variation in elite turnover and survival. To illustrate our argument, we trace the careers of 674 high-ranking officials in Egypt following the Free Officers’ seizure of power in July 1952. A multilevel survival analysis shows that officials connected to Egypt’s deposed monarch and very senior figures were most vulnerable to being purged. Experienced officials and those with university education were more likely to be retained. Residual workplace effects suggest that a threat-competence calculation also operated at the ministry level. Triangulation with biographies, memoirs, and speeches corroborates the mechanism. The findings show why radical state-led change often requires a degree of elite-level continuity.