Syria’s opposition coalition early yesterday elected a little-known US-educated information and technology manager and Islamic activist to head an interim government to administer areas seized by rebel forces from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.
Ghassan Hitto received 35 votes out of 48 ballots cast by the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s 63 active members during a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. The results were read aloud by coalition member Hisham Marwa to applause from a few dozen of his colleagues who had waited until after 1am to hear the results.
“I miss my wife and children and I look forward to seeing them soon,” said Hitto, who has lived in the US for decades and recently moved from Texas to Turkey to help coordinate aid to the rebels.
Coalition members hope that the new government will unite the rebels fighting al-Assad’s forces on the ground and provide services to Syrians living in rebel-held areas, many of which have been battered by the civil war and suffer acute shortages of basic necessities.
Yet the new government faces huge challenges, starting with recognition from rebel factions.
As rebels progress in northern and eastern Syria, a patchwork of rebel groups and local councils have sought to fill the void left by the government by organizing security patrols, reopening bakeries and running courts and prisons. It is unclear if these groups will accept an outside authority, especially if it is headed by someone who has spent decades abroad.
“How can a civilian come and tell these fighters on the ground: ‘Drop your weapons. It’s my turn to rule’?” asked Adib Shishakly, the coalition’s representative to a group of Gulf nations known as the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Hitto’s election follows two failed attempts to form interim governments due to opposition infighting. Coalition members also say they received insufficient international support to allow them to project their authority to groups inside Syria. The new government could have the same problem.
“You have to find a way to cooperate with these groups and you can only rule by providing services, which requires funding,” Shishakly said.
The council’s creation of an interim government renders even more remote the chances of ending the war through negotiations with Damascus — the preferred solution of the US and others.
The US supports a peace plan by the UN and the Arab League calling for the formation of a transitional government that represents the regime and the opposition.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday reiterated his call for a political solution “while there is still time to prevent Syria’s complete destruction.”
Coalition members in Istanbul rejected the idea of negotiating with the Syrian government.
“We’ve heard a lot about this ‘peaceful solution,’ but there are no positive, real steps from the regime,” coalition member Nizar al-Hrakey said.