By: Maher Al Junaidy المقالة بالعربية
The hypocenter, that is what geologists call the point where earthquakes first manifest themselves within the earth’s rocky tectonic plates. The epicentre, on the other hand, is another point on the earth’s crust, indicating the tremor’s geographical location. When an earthquake occurs, tremendous kinetic energy is released from its epicentre, spreading seismic waves in all directions. Some waves occur within the earth’s crust, some deeper within its mantle; the former spreading much faster than the latter whose speed, to some extent, depends on the homogeneity of the seismic waves themselves.
It is no exaggeration to say that Al Bouazizi was the hypocenter of the Arab earthquake, its aftershocks reaching regions quite distant from Sidi Bouzid.
An earthquake may pass with minimal losses, toppling only inarticulated edifices if no rigid structures stand in the path of its seismic waves. Changes may be severe but not catastrophic if these structures possess elasticity, plasticity and malleability to allow enough sway and shift to counteract the effects of the quake. But if the structure suffers from inelasticity and toughness, in engineering physics terms, the situation will be catastrophic; rather massive or epic as classified by the Richter scale.
That does not necessarily imply that aftershocks will not have more severe effects than the relatively smooth passing of the initial quake. The element of surprise in Tunisia and Egypt meant that the major tremors caused minimal direct damage. Additionally both regimes possessed enough flexibility, plasticity and malleability to allow the basic infrastructure of the state to remain intact despite the overthrow of both regimes.
But the ecstasy and joy experienced by Arabs on 11 February 2011 with the resignation of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and with new potential horizons opening up before those concerned in Egypt, Tunisia and around the Arab world, was offset by other boiling emotions.
One of the first examples of the confusion and geological danger sensed by the same group of peoples was Gaddafi’s televised horror speech, delivered after the escape of Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Gaddafi scolded Tunisians for their ‘foolish’ action that turned ‘green’ Tunisia into ‘black’ Tunisia, and that resulted in the bloodshed of dozens of Tunisian youth. He ended his speech with his now famous eulogy “Ala Tunis Al Salam” – roughly translated into ‘Goodbye Tunisia!’ or ‘This is the end of Tunisia’.
Gaddafi’s regime was neither flexible nor malleable enough to allow for a smooth downfall, as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed it quickly became apparent that the regime’s preparedness was far stronger than the efforts to uproot it, thus allowing the state to remain unaffected and the seismic waves to pass with minimal damages. On the other hand, Gaddafi’s regime cannot be said to have possessed qualities such as steadfastness or solidity. Hardness, breakability, brittleness and susceptibility to erosion and collapse might be better descriptions. The regime failed to spread its geological roots within the platelet structure of Libyan society and it lacked sufficient connections with the continental platelets.
The Yemeni regime, on the other hand, was elastic and malleable enough that, for all intents and purposes, matters have been all but resolved. While the Bahraini scene remains foggy. By contrast, the Syrian aftershocks faced very different circumstances.
Contrasting the euphoria and joy in Syria was the sense of confusion, of imminent geological danger, that burned within other locations beyond the Syrian geological dimension and beyond the Syrian regime.
During its forty-odd years in power, the regime undoubtedly and cunningly struck its roots deep within the geological Syrian structure. Consciously drawing on its strengths, its complexities, its terrains, its contours, its rich topography, as well as its weaknesses, turning the country into a mere geological monstrosity within its tyrannical steel structure.
Here the regime can be described as geologically steadfast and solid, translated on the ground into brazenness and oppression. The regime can also be said to possess a hardenability so strong that it cannot be scratched even by Daraa’s children scribbling “The people want to overthrow the regime” on school walls.
But this alone cannot explain the regime’s continued resilience in the face of a revolution like that of the Syrian people. The Syrian aftershock is huge, both in amplitude and frequency. It is also supported by the great momentum provided by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. But in its depth, the Syrian revolution was fought amidst non-heterogeneous spheres. This produced a variation in the degree and speed of responsiveness, as in geology. This is particularly true within the captive Alawite sect, used as a human shield by the regime to repel any violent reactions to its unjust practices. The regime also succeeded over the years in establishing inextricable regional and international relations with China, Iran, Turkey and Russia, and neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon.
We will not delve into other countries’ desire to stop the aftershocks of the Arab quake from spreading from one location to another, lest it arrives to regions where such quakes are highly undesirable. For them Syria proved to be a convenient burial ground. But, going back to geology, when aftershocks are faced with solid edifices with high degrees of resistance and opposition, the devastation will be vast and tragic, the destruction deep and widespread. There is no doubt that such edifices of oppression will fall, and their very foundations, customised specifically for the regime, will shake and crumble.
Twenty months into the revolution and almost two years since the quake’s first tremors, the aftershocks that reached Syria have gone beyond the crust, shaking the country’s mantle and core. Still, geology states that the regime’s authoritarian edifice will be destroyed. But its destruction will be accompanied by profound changes that will constitute a significant milestone in the geological and geographical history of the region.
We must not forget that earthquakes are merely the movements of platelets repositioning themselves in line with the geological history of the earth’s crust and inner layers. And we must not underestimate the fact that such movements may result in unforeseen continental shifting.
Published in Al Hayat newspaper on 1 November 2012. Click here to read the article on Al Hayat’s website.