End of the Road Trip: The Revolution Returns to Egypt

One year after the Arab Spring, SPIEGEL correspondent Alexander Smoltczyk set out on a journey through the Maghreb to assess the changes the region has undergone. On the third and final leg of his journey through North Africa, he ends in Cairo, where the revolution is still underway.

Tahrir square in Cairo: Egyptians hold their national flags as they take part in a rally celebrating the first anniversary of the 25th January uprising. Zoom
DPA

Tahrir square in Cairo: Egyptians hold their national flags as they take part in a rally celebrating the first anniversary of the 25th January uprising.

On Dec. 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man in rural Tunisia, poured gasoline on himself -- and ignited an entire region. One by one, the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya toppled their rulers. One year after Bouazizi's self-immolation, much has changed in the Maghreb. But a lot has remained the same. In places where secular rulers prevailed for decades, Islamists are now trying to seize the reins of power. And many people there are just as poor and hopeless as they were before the revolutions.

This is the third article in a series by SPIEGEL correspondent Alexander Smoltczyk as he travels along the Transmaghrébine highway from Morocco to Egypt together with a photographer. On the third leg of his journey, he travels from the Libyan border, through Alexandria and on to Cairo, where he finds violence flaring up on the streets once again. Be sure to also read the first and second parts of the series.


The trip ends the way it began: with shots, flames, barricades and deaths. The journey of more than 5,000 kilometers (2,272 miles), through the landscape of revolutions, was to end on Tahrir Square in Cairo. But suddenly, what was intended as a look back on the past becomes the present, with the people around us carrying Molotov cocktails and fleeing into buildings to escape the military. No one has time to recount stories of the revolution in past tense.

The revolution has returned, as our journey ends on the banks of the Nile in mid-December. Revolutions are mysterious events, hard to grab hold of, never quite over and always alarming.

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