This paper examines the geological and socio-political setting of the 1992 earthquake in northern Egypt. The main conclusions concern the importance of surface geology in controlling the nature of the earthquake impact, and the role of poor construction and maintenance standards (and lapses in building regulation enforcement) in influencing the vulnerability of buildings to failure. The heaviest human losses were associated with two main types of construction: firstly the old, dilapidated adobe houses of the poor in rural areas and in Cairo's inner city slums, and secondly certain modern, engineered (in some cases illegally) high-rise concrete constructions inhabited by the wealthy. The paper concludes by analysing the immediate response of the government and some non-governmental organisations in Egypt to the earthquake. Politicisation of the event is linked to broader issues of economic and social reform in the country and to the rise of Islamic Fundamentalist activity in all its forms.