Dear TIME Magazine: Thanks For Nothing. Love, Egypt
When it comes to covering international news, the American mainstream media continually proves to be incompetent at providing meaningful, in-depth coverage and analysis of a situation and the people involved. This week's TIME magazine cover is a prime example of the immense and dangerous shortcomings of American mainstream media. We see, almost literally, a black-and-white image of the protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt this past week that portrays them as the "World's Greatest Protesters," and also the "World's Worst Democrats." The polemical language, along with how the cover story is being framed, gives one of the most simplistic and offensive media outlet portrayals of the situation in Egypt.
In a nutshell, TIME is saying that while Egyptians are really great at getting protests together, they don't know what to do with themselves afterward. Among the slew of problems this cover presents, not only is the language incredibly generalizing and condescending, it largely ignores who exactly is responsible for the current unrest in the country (if we can even narrow the blame to a single, uniform group of people). This cover broadly puts the blame for the current crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood-oriented media outlets, and pins the deaths of dozens of former President Mohamed Morsi's supporters on the masses of people who protested his rule. TIME not only insinuates that the opposition movement is seeking to grab power and exclude other groups, but that the masses were protesting blindly and didn't know what they were doing. Putting the blame on masses of people is, plainly put, ignorant.
Egyptian protesters — and, specifically, anti-Morsi protesters — are portrayed as the sole reason that the country is as unstable as it is, conveniently ignoring the fact that the military was responsible for the deaths of a number of demonstrators in last week's violence, and the fact that the people pictured were protesting against an autocratic ruler who seemed to be driving the government toward being a fascist state that catered to the Muslim Brotherhood's interests. The cover portrays the Egyptians who took part in the June 30 protests against Morsi as irrational and incapable of establishing a fair and inclusive system of government. It's the Egyptian military – the same military to which our government sends $1.3 billion worth of aid every year – that supported a harsh year of military rule, as well as the murder of pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Conveniently, TIME's insinuations take attention away from the underlying forces in the country, and the Morsi administration's role in igniting the protests and current unrest. Since carrying out Morsi's ouster, the military has been responsible for securing the streets. However, as we can see with the rising death toll from recent clashes, in many cases, the military has had a huge role in the violence. Just last week, over 50 unarmed demonstrators were killed when the army allegedly opened fire on them. Among the casualties was journalist Ahmed Assem, who documented his own death as he captured what appears to be a military sniper aiming at him. The military is also the institution responsible for shutting down Islamist media outlets, and for arresting over 200 members of the Brotherhood who were in leadership positions. Their actions look to be less of a move to suppress violent outbreak from the Brotherhood, and more an attempt to crack down on the organization itself. TIME's layout also excludes any mention of the pro-Morsi protesters who have been guilty of promoting violence and causing several deaths around the country. The cover is an oversimplistic portrayal of anti-Morsi protesters as instigators of chaos, and the pro-Morsi protesters as victims. The image ignores the complexities of the situation, which are more than deserving of analysis, and frames the situation as a black-and-white matter.
This cover just adds to the incredible lack of attention mainstream American media outlets have given the situation. Any passerby who sees it without reading the full story may very well get the impression that the instability in Egypt is due to barbaric forces: the masses of people who demanded fair governance. What's most disheartening is the fact that we have yet to see much backlash about the tastelessness of this cover, or about the fact that the mainstream media still don't get how easily a story can be strongly slanted by simplistic images and language.