Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you know about the mass demonstrations in Egypt, Mubarak’s decision to turn off the internet in order to stop Twitter (sorry Kanye, revolution is #thebestthingevertweeted), how Anderson Cooper got assaulted, and how Cairo has become like L.A. in the 1980s but minus skateboarding and plus decades of religious oppression.
While many think the “Jasmine Revolution” of Tunisia is to blame for the radical protests in Egypt, there is a much simpler explanation: geology. Yes, I know, it may seem like a simplistic way to summarize complex socioeconomic factors that have been building in the Middle East since the power vacuum formed after the fall of the Soviet Union, but actually it makes a lot of sense. So what exactly is the geological basis for insurrections? How can dirt and rocks affect revolutionary thought? And what exactly does this mean for San Francisco?
Geology is both an active and a static area. On one hand there is the physical earth that a country is situated on. Imagine a slice of cake with funfetti (diamonds! oil!), chocolate frosting (iron! gold!), and lots of cake in between (pound, angel, devil food, it all works as a rock porosity metaphor). Think of a country as one of those pieces of edible paper that people put on the top of sheet cakes, not really part of the cake, not really signifying anything about the kind of cake below, and just kind of a weird overlay.
On the other hand there are the geologic processes that affect the county, that modify its initial cake state, like melting ice cream on it (subduction of tectonic plates anyone?) or lighting a candle (magma hot spots) or smooshing it into your brother’s face when he least expects it (an apt description of the distortion that occurs during both strike and slip faults as well as earthquake aftershocks).
Like a good party, the geology of a country depends on both having the cake and eating it too, and revolutions are inspired both by the economics of geological phenomena like diamonds and oil as well as destabilizing events like earthquakes. Other manifestations of plate tectonics, like the mountain building in the Tibetan plateau due to the subduction of the Indian plate, can also create environments conducive to guerilla warfare. Consider the sheer number of potential caves and crags Osama Bin Laden could be hiding in. Groups like the Taliban use the geography caused by geology to enable the anonymous and unpredictable tactics of their insurrection.
Meanwhile in Egypt, there are three layers of rocks. First, there is a lovely layer of limestone that covers most of the country’s surface. This explains the color (or lack thereof) of the pyramids. It’s also nice, soft sedimentary stone that’s dissolvable with acid, so if things get too rough one can just douse the country and everything will melt. Seriously—the calcium that holds the stone together will dissolve away as quickly as Mubarak’s international support.
Below the limestone is a layer of sandstone. That is pretty self-explanatory. Underlying this a layer of metamorphic and igneous rocks, where iron, gold, and reserves can also be found. Besides that proverbial funfetti and frosting, Egypt doesn’t have much going on in terms of geologic activity because it is located in the middle of the African plate. The Arabian plate that is its next door neighbor sometimes gets uppity, resulting in earthquakes like 1992’s 5.8 that killed 552, but most of the geologic excitement comes from the secondary effects of its natural resources.
The wealth gap in the country (partially caused by the control of the mining and oil industries by a handful of Mubarak cronies), the international corporate interest in maintaining stability to ensure uninhibited access to drilling and extraction, and the pretty damn depressing repetition of sandstone as the only building material—bland and passé and very 1960 (B.C.E)—all helped contribute to the mass protests and Twitter-powered revolution.
Geology is often forgotten when looking at international events but it actually and literally fuels revolution from oil to caves and from blood diamonds to the stones the slaves built the pyramids with. California is also its fault.