As dictators were ousted in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, a revolutionary spark swept across the Middle East and North Africa. It terrified leaders in the West.
Images from the resistance were sent around the world and carried the message that revolution was not dead.
Across the region, leaders had enforced neoliberal policies that crippled the poor. Unemployment was high. All working class people stood to gain from revolution spreading.
And revolts did spread. Protests swept across Jordan, forcing the monarchy to make constitutional reforms.
Thousands of protesters in Yemen called for president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. And despite promising that he would, the movement stayed on the streets.
In Syria, people held solidarity protests with the Egyptian Revolution.
State repression of the protests helped spark a mass movement intent on toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In the Gulf island state Bahrain, protesters occupied the main roundabout at the heart of the capital Manama, just like Egyptians occupied Tahrir Sqaure.
Saudi Arabia saw protests for the first time in many years. And in Gaza fireworks marked the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Governments further afield were worried too. In Zimbabwe activists faced a possible death sentence for watching videos of the revolution.
Greece saw mass protests later in the year, and demonstrators occupied squares across Spain.
Egypt’s uprising brought a chance for a real transformation of society. Its working class was bigger than many others in the region—providing a force that could deepen the revolution.
But success wasn’t inevitable. And the revolution would not survive without significant struggles by working class people in other countries.
Sameh Naguib, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt, explained this in Socialist Worker in 2013. He said that being “surrounded” by revolution was “very dangerous” for other Middle Eastern countries.
“So the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the counter-revolution in the region,” wrote Sameh.
“When General el-Sisi took over in Egypt, his first phone call was to tell the king of Saudi Arabia not to worry.
“The revolution in Egypt can only succeed through the fall of these regimes. It needs to spread or it will be choked.”
Revolution cannot bring about lasting socialist change in one country while the global capitalist system remains intact.
Revolutions disrupt the global trade that links different states together. And by suggesting that there is a different way to run society, they threaten capitalist ruling classes everywhere.
That’s why those at the top will fight to crush revolutions and stop their spread.
Mass revolutionary movements have to be large enough and organised enough to beat back these forces.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks who led it argued that ultimately it had to spread to succeed.
With revolts breaking out across the world, and strong revolutionary movements in countries such as Germany, this was a real possibility.
As Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin said, “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish.”
The revolution in Egypt did not lead to a different kind of society. Yet the sparks of the Arab Spring revolts are still felt across the region.
Revolutions will continue to break out and give hope to millions of people across the world.
Revolutionaries have to learn the lessons of past revolts to try and make sure that those in the future succeed.