However, this ironic display denouncing protest as protest bypasses the State and seeks phatic communication with others. The November 30 protestors are not asking for certain rights from the State, but asking spectators to watch how they disengage from the state. Or rather initially engage only to then dismiss the state, and undermine the process of not only seeking permission to protest, but for any other rights. The protests are also hailing the state (“Hey, State”), but simultaneously dismissing the legitimacy of any state response with signs declaiming protest (“This is not a protest”).
Evoking Magritte’s ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ as a warning of the gap between the optical illusion and the real object, the protestors hold up the disclaimers “this is not a protest” to demonstrate the difference between the reality of Egypt under a military coup and the illusion perpetuated by governments worldwide that “this is not a coup.” The ironic protests create a community of consciousness, with observers inside and outside Egypt, that shares in unraveling the disclaimers from the ‘inside’ (insofar as irony creates a empathic space of communion and insofar as it parasitically relies on the structure it interrogates). The protest’s ironic display creates an interactive, phatic space to engage with the present meaning of Egypt’s official State narratives (“this not a coup”) to extract the absent meaning of criminalizing dissent in the face of an unacknowledged state narrative (“this is not a protest” to the coup). It thus redefines the rules of engagement with a State that has created irreconcilable realities between which meaning and signification get cut off. In a surrealist gesture, the protestors hold up a mirror to the State and the schizophrenic realities it has created, questioning the absurdity of violence detected in a schoolboy’s ruler and balloons, inasmuch as inviting questions about the absurdity of carrying signs disclaiming protest amidst the reality of a protest.
>Images via Daily News Egypt, r4bia platform