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December 6, 2012

That TIME Morsi Cover, Dictator-Size

TIME Morsi cover

Although the backstory by the editor-at-large ascribed all kinds of political mystique and geopolitical weight to Egypt’s new president, TIME’s choice to feature him on the cover in a super-closeup looks mighty awkward a couple weeks later.

Truth be told, Morsi won the spotlight for leveraging Hamas and helping broker the Gaza ceasefire — in the stretch, becoming Obama’s 3am hotline buddy. Awkward alright, because almost immediately after the cover was published, Morsi’s power grab and plans for a constitutional do-over threw Egypt into a new tailspin.

But then, having scored points with Washington while also nailing down a new multibillion dollar IMF loan, perhaps the cover text, true to historical form, should have read “Our most important man…” or better, just “the man in the middle” for leveraging West against East and brotherhood of man against the Egyptian one.

When I refer to historical form, by the way, I’m thinking about the context the website EgyptianChronicles brings to the subject of Egyptian rulers, US foreign policy and TIME covers:

Already Starting from King Fouad I, Egypt’s ruler has always appeared on the famous American magazine in a way or another. Presidents Nasser and Sadat broke the record unlike any other ruler in the Arab world except may be for Arafat or Qaddafi. He (Morsi) is the eighth Egyptian ruler to appear on Time Magazine.

(The EC piece is just as good, by the way, for the tidbit that the Brotherhood is bombarding TIME’s website with votes for Morsi as the magazine’s “Person of the Year.”)

Aside from America’s dance with Egyptian strongmen, we’ve written here quite a bit about personality politics and visual media’s general attraction to bullies and bad actors. (I confess, For a second I failed to make out Morsi and thought that the cover, concurrent with Palestinian celebrations over the Gaza ceasefire, featured Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.)

Perhaps what’s most ironic about this cover choice, however, is that it came the same week Mamoud Abbas, in an example of how long term, in-the-trench diplomacy really works, defied concerted opposition from the US to achieve observer state status for Palestine at the U.N. Having been largely erased from the public eye during the Hamas-driven two week air war with Israel, I could have imagined Abbas on the cover (perhaps extending his hand to Susan Rice) as the more nervy move.

(photo: Nadav Kander for TIME. Cairo. November 28, 2012.Morsi interview here.

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