Syria’s civil war has parallels to Spain’s: It is not another Bosnia


A rare TV address from Bashar Al-Assad shows the lion can still roar and there is no imminent end to the conflict in Syria.  It is unclear, however, whether rebels will break through or if this is a prelude to a formal stalemate and peace talks.

I have been deeply cynical of Britain’s rush to take sides in this conflict and of how easily a multicultural country  suddenly can be comfortably reported as ethnically divided.  I have many Syrian friends, some doctors like myself, who tell me time and again the ethnic component is over exaggerated and suits a very Western media audience.

I think most Syrians would agree that in an age of mass media and instant communication the West’s coverage of the Syrian conflict has been exceptionally poor in quality, despite the deluge of graphic images streaming from the conflict.

This is a war in which neither side is legitimate by any means other than force.  Though this should not turn us against the Free Syrian Army, it should sound warning bells as to what the West will deal with should Assad finally go.  Strange as we recognise the Syrian Opposition as the official government yet we don’t really know who they are.

The FSA is a mixture of different fighting elements but as the conflict rolls on Islamic extremists are taking up the cause of the resistance.  Any loss of government creates a power vacuum and weapons flowing in from GCC countries are finding their way to extremists who are primed to seize power.

In Bosnia there were long recognised inter-ethnic tensions that were suppressed by overarching market socialism, in this way the Yugoslav communist party was similar to the Baath party.  The shots in Daraa that started this war, however, were not in response to ethnic conflict but in response to a cry for liberty.   There were no such open ethnic tensions in Syria on the scale seen in Bosnia.

There has been no ethnic cleansing on any demonstrable scale and neither side has openly promoted their own branch of Islam as a rallying cry.  Alawites support Assad, but is best classified as economic and not ethnic; his own tribe was lifted out of poverty by Assad and they have no wish to lose their new found prosperity.  They are deeply fearful of reprisals themselves.

As in Spain in the 1930s neither side in Syria is legitimate by any means; nor are they close to being friendly to the West.  It does not follow that any willing power after Assad will be better than Assad.  It is looking likely from the results of the Arab Spring that the opposite may be true.

Had the UK and France helped either side in Spain’s civil war significantly the results would have been catastrophic.  Had either the fascists or the communists won a year earlier than they did in 1939 then Europe would now be under authoritarian tyranny; and it would be even worse than the EU…

21st Century politics will be defined by liberty fighting against authoritarianism; liberty survived in Europe because it allowed two authoritarian powers to stall through attrition.  The winning fascists were in no shape to influence Europe in any great way.

It may be best we allow this war in Syria to find its own outcome and stop arming the FSA.  Every lesson in history tells us we have no idea what we will be dealing with next. There is so much more we can do to contribute to humanitarian assistance and use economic sanctions applied as a lock on tyranny, and only lift such sanctions when a new government implements real reforms.

As neither side is friendly to the UK we should stand well back and let either emerge as victor, but only just.



  1. Not arguing with the comments on Syria, but the view of European history in this article is deeply strange…

    “As in Spain in the 1930s neither side in Syria is legitimate by any means”

    Um, what? The Republican forces in Spain *were* the legitimate, democratically elected government of Spain. Of course, the leftist side also included plenty of communists and anarchists who cared nothing for democracy, but ultimately their cause was the legitimate one.

    “Had the UK and France helped either side in Spain’s civil war significantly the results would have been catastrophic. ”
    Really? More catastrophic than the 1930s and 1940s were for Europe in reality? That’s hard to believe.

    “Had either the fascists or the communists won a year earlier than they did in 1939 then Europe would now be under authoritarian tyranny”

    I just don’t see how you can possibly argue that. After the Spanish Civil War, Spain was never likely to join in World War II; if the Civil War had ended earlier, it possibly might have done (and I suppose that’s what you’re arguing), but Spain’s military was too small to ultimately affect the result either way. Even if they had sided with Nazi Germany, the combined might of the USA and USSR on the Allied side would always have won in the end.

    But besides: even if WWII had somehow turned out differently, to suggest that we would be ‘living under authoritarian tyranny today’ is a ludicrous proposition. In the long-term, the trend towards democracy and freedom is undeniable. It ultimately defeated the communist bloc, and even if the Nazis had won WWII they would in the end have gone the same way.

  2. The establishment media has been very biased in their reporting, seemingly happy to draw a discrete veil over the atrocities of the anti-Assad forces, and blame the government whenever there’s any lack of clarity as to what happened. Not to say the government are good guys, but if the choice is secular fascism or Wahhabi cut-throats, I’d have to choose the former.

  3. Excellent article. I have been following the civil war in Syria closely, but had never considered the Spanish example before.

    My personal preference would have been for the Western powers, or at least the UK and France,to covertly back Assad with intelligence and money. He may be brutal, but we all know where he stands. He has no designs on reclaiming the Golan Heights, and he was already starting to move away from Iran and Russia. Western knee-jerk belligerence has pushed him back into the Moscow/Tehran camp.


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