MY doctor was unequivocal. “There’s only one place you’re going anytime soon and that’s hospital,” he told me. “You have a severe respiratory infection and blood pressure that’s off the Richter scale,” he continued, giving me a stern look while delivering his diagnosis at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary.

He would have no argument from me, for I knew I was very sick and exhausted.

It was December 2011 just weeks ­before Christmas and it had been a long and ­punishing year. Just two months earlier while taking cover from sniper fire on a rooftop in the beleaguered Libyan ­capital Tripoli, I had received a satellite ­telephone call from my editors back in Scotland telling me that my mother had died.

Getting home became an instant ­priority but it was easier said than done with routes out to the nearest border with Tunisia having become very dangerous.

The following days were spent ­bunkered down in a Tripoli neighbourhood with two journalist colleagues as fighting ­between rebel gunmen and the last ­remnants of those who had supported the regime of Libyan leader Colonel ­Muammar Gaddafi flared around us.

With the only electricity supply run from a hotel generator, we found ­ourselves living on bottled water, canned tuna and crackers, while trying to file our stories and pictures while I cried myself to sleep at night and pined terribly for home.

It had been earlier in January that same year that I found myself at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport en-route to the Egyptian capital Cairo. Just a few months before that on December 17, 2010, a young ­Tunisian called Mohamed Bouazizi who sold vegetables from a barrow had set himself alight in protest against police ­harassment. Bouazizi died on January 4, 2011, but not before his desperate gesture went viral, sparking protests against the cost of living and the country’s ­authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Inspired by the protests others too rose up. Egypt and Bahrain came next, then Libya and finally Syria, as revolts against authoritarianism, corruption, and ­poverty spread. The Arab Spring, as these uprisings became known, had begun.

What followed from that first ­Tunisian spark ten years ago would change a ­region. As a reporter I would also find myself covering historic events that still reverberate to this day.

It was perhaps in Cairo with its ­spectacle of mass protests in the city’s Tahrir Square that the world really began to sit up and take notice of what was ­happening.

Sitting late that February night at ­Amsterdam airport waiting to see if my flight to Cairo would actually leave, I had watched on television as Egypt’s ­President Hosni Mubarak, after 30 years of iron rule, finally told the world he would step down and not contest Egypt’s September election of 2011.

Maybe now it’s all over, I thought to ­myself. Perhaps by the time I get there that massive army of pro-democracy ­supporters who had made Tahrir Square a household name would now be ­oaming the streets in a grand victory pageant. How wrong I was.

“Today the country is at war,” an old man called Ihsab put me straight the ­following afternoon in Cairo, his voice quivering with emotion.

“Once again Mubarak has played his clever game, and yet again we Egyptians are the losers, today our dream has died,” he continued, as two elderly companions nodded forlornly in agreement.

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These old Cairenes had every cause for concern. Emboldened by the president’s televised speech the previous night, pro-Mubarak supporters had been mobilised en masse in the streets off ­Tahrir Square.

Until that moment this neighbourhood had been the territorial preserve of the opposition, but now all that was about to change. With the arrival of Mubarak’s men, the fuse had been lit, making the ­explosion just a matter of time.

It came that same afternoon in a hail of rocks, bottles and petrol bombs. In rush after rush, men wielding scaffolding poles, crowbars, knives, razors, and Tasers, and some carrying guns, charged forward. Mostly they attacked on foot, but near 6 October Bridge off Tahrir Square, they galloped in on horseback and camels like something from a bygone age.

At a junction called Champollion, near the rallying point of the pro-Mubarak ­cadres on Talaat Harb Square, myself and my colleagues, Japanese photojournalist Q Sakamaki and fellow Scots writer ­Michael Gunn, suddenly found ourselves in their midst.

“We need Mubarak, Egypt needs Mubarak,” a bearded man who would only give his name as Ahmed, pushed ­forward to tell us. “Tell them the truth, Egyptians need Mubarak, not having our country being taken from us by the Americans,” Ahmed rammed home his point, fending off ­others who wanted to make theirs.

His voice was hoarse from shouting but he carried an air of authority among the other regime-recruited thugs – “baltagiya” as they are known in Arabic. On ­asking some of Cairo’s other citizens where these men had come from, they told me of unexplained multiple jail breaks ­creating an army of hired hands mustered with the complicity of Egypt’s notorious state security service, the “amin dowla”.

At Champollion junction that afternoon their plainclothes agents mingled among the rioters, perhaps making sure the state got its money’s worth.

In Egypt this was just the start but ­elsewhere in Bahrain, protesters were also already busy renaming Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, “Tahrir Square”, and demanding reforms. In Egypt’s neighbour Libya too, the revolt had begun with Gaddafi responding by pledging to hunt down the “rats” that had risen against him. It was in Libya’s second city, Benghazi that I was to meet these young “revolutionaries”, determined to overthrow Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship.

Many were to pay the ultimate price.

TWENTY-ONE years old and engaged to be married, Fahdi Ali Mohammed Saad had just finished his noon prayers when he gave his life for the Libyan Revolution. It was a Friday I recall when, Fahdi’s roughly hewn coffin, draped in a white sheet, was carried on the shoulders of his rebel comrades into Benghazi’s central square.

Thousands who had gathered there to pray and listen to speeches as part of a “Freedom Friday” rally, stepped aside in a movement that resembled a breaking wave as his cortege passed through their ranks.

“The blood of the martyrs will not be wasted,” the men chanted repeatedly, while women raised their voices in an eerie high- pitched ululating cry. Kalashnikov shots were fired into the air and alongside the young man’s coffin, his ­uncle Khalid wept and hugged mourners.

Khalid told of how Fahdi had been a graduate petroleum engineer and worked for one of Libya’s oil companies. He told too of how his nephew volunteered to fight before being shot on the fiercely contested battlefield between the oil port towns of Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad.

“He was with the revolutionaries and went to help at the front, but in the port, Gaddafi had disguised his civilian oil ships and they had mercenaries on board who opened fired with heavy guns,” ­explained Khalid.

In the firefight that followed, up to 50 rebels were wounded and Fahdi and ­another of his comrades were killed.

A month or so later Tripoli too like Benghazi was no stranger to death. Few fought harder for the survival of

Gaddafi’s regime than the Libyan Army’s 32 ­Brigade that bore the name of the ­autocrat’s youngest son Khamis and was one of the nation’s most feared military units.

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It was the end of August 2011 when I passed under the bullet- scarred archway at the entrance to its headquarters in Tripoli that stands topped with a giant ­eagle, the brigade’s symbol.

Targeted heavily by Nato’s warplanes, the main command buildings that sat within this fortress compound the size of a small town lay smashed by hi-tech bombs.

Rebae Fereg Kashot lived only a few ­hundred yards from the Khamis HQ. ­Every day during the breaking of the ­Ramadan fast he would take dinner to an old man who lived right next to a ­compound that sat behind the head­quarters. That same old man had begun to tell him of what he was hearing and seeing.

“He said he heard shooting every night, and people screaming,” Kashot recalled. In the days that followed, he and other local people uncovered the terrible ­evidence inside the compound.

“Can you smell it? ” Kashot asked me. “Look at these flies. Have you seen what is inside there?” I remember the ­emotional quiver in his voice and what was clearly the trauma he still suffered from his ­gruesome discovery a few days earlier.

Peering in through the door I could see the floor was a blanket of silvery green and black cinders though solid bones and skulls remained clearly visible. The stench was appalling.

This was all that remained after the Khamis Brigade soldiers had machine-gunned their prisoners and thrown in ­grenades before hurriedly trying to ­dispose of the evidence by burning down the building. .

Looking back on those dark days now it’s all too easy to recognise the magnitude of the atrocities and events that unfolded. But at the time never could those of us who witnessed them taking place, realise that many years later the remaining chapters would continue to play out.

Over and again in the years following that 2011 upheaval, the stories of those caught up had by now become variations on the common themes of displacement, flight, exodus and exile.

Many, like those Syrian refugees I was to subsequently meet in the refugee camps of Lebanon or the Greek islands, had been blown by the Arab Spring’s winds of war to alien places and uncertain futures.

But this enormous upheaval, out of which many had hoped for a better ­future, had also created other monsters and ­power vacuums in which Islamist ­extremists brought a new kind of ­authoritarianism moulded in the shape of a ­seventh century caliphate.

THAT the Islamic State (IS) group’s perverted vision was as far removed from the democratic hopes of many ordinary Arabs and other citizens in the region is obvious.

Fully seven years on from those early days that I spent in Tunis, Cairo, ­Benghazi and Tripoli at the start of the uprisings it was in the Syrian city of Raqqa the self-pronounced headquarters of the IS ­caliphate that in 2018 I was to witness how far removed those early hopes of freedom had now become. Here again were the atrocities and mass graves, but this time the perpetrators were not the Baathist regimes of Gaddafi or al-Assad but the jihadists of IS.

Today many across the Arab world ­undoubtedly feel that they are living in significantly more unequal societies than they had before 2011. What started back then is not a closed episode, far from it, leaving behind as it does a complex ­legacy of civil wars and continuing power ­struggles.

The spring, some say, has given way to an even harsher season and that famous refrain of the 2011 protests, “The people want the fall of the regime”, once again echoes in places like Tunisia, Iraq and elsewhere.

As a journalist looking back now even in these times of a global pandemic, it’s clear that the story of the Arab Spring ­remains one of the most significant to have played out during my lifetime.

Lying in my Glasgow hospital bed just before Christmas 10 years ago, I distinctly remember thinking how much the events of the year running up to the point had taken out of me. But I also recall how much of an indelible impression it had made on me as an individual in a positive way.

Just as it is for many of my friends in the region the Arab Spring for me too remains an unfinished story. Its postscript is one that doubtless I’ll be writing about and photographing for what remains of my working life. Whatever happens it’s not something I’ll ever forget.