The Streets of the Revolution North Africa, One Year Later
Twelve months ago, a young man in Tunisia ignited himself and triggered a revolution that spread across northern Africa. A year later, correspondent Alexander Smoltczyk set out in a new series on a journey to assess the changes the tumultuous Maghreb region has undergone -- from Morocco to Egypt.
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 first article in a series by SPIEGEL correspondent Alexander Smoltczyk as he travels eastward across the Maghreb, from Rabat to Alexandria, from the Atlantic to the Nile, to take the pulse of the region and explore where things might go from here.
The Cairo-Dakar Highway runs 8,636 kilometers (5,366 miles) across North Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Nile River. The section along the Mediterranean coast is called the "Transmaghrébine."
Parts of the Transmaghrébine have broad lanes and are outfitted with tollbooths and roadside lighting. In other parts, it is a work in progress or suddenly stops and disappears into the sand. These are the places where there are still World War II-era German bunkers, and where the bombed-out tanks of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are already beginning to rust. Some countries have just begun construction, while patches of new asphalt are already missing in others, revealing the old road surface underneath.
Some say that the Transmaghrébine is a historic project, proof of a turning point for North Africa and the Arab world. Others say that the project is doomed to fail because nothing can ever change for the better in the Maghreb, the northern region of Africa stretching from Libya to Mauritania.
Of course, a road is not proof of change by itself. But anyone who embarks on a trip along the Transmaghrébine these days will quickly realize that he or she is not alone. Indeed, many people are traveling on the Transmaghrébine, with even more waiting on the side of the road. And the segment between the Moroccan capital Rabat and Cairo cuts right through a region of recent rebellion, offering the traveler a composite view of revolutions in their diverse aggregate states -- sometimes hot, sometimes cold and sometimes already dissipated.
So let's go, let the journey begin! Or, to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "Off to Benghazi!"
- Part 1: North Africa, One Year Later
- Part 2: KILOMETER 0: Rabat, Fort Rottembourg
- Part 3: KILOMETER 3: Rabat, Royal Palace
- Part 4: KILOMETER 516: Oujda, Crossing the Border into Algeria
- Part 5: KILOMETER 1,944: Tunis, "Quartier de la Révolution"
- Part 6: KILOMETER 1,980: Carthage, "Villa Didon"
- Part 7: KILOMETER 1,991: Tunis, the Casbah District
- Part 8: KILOMETER 2,217: Sfax, Turnoff to Sidi Bouzid