Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Ghassan Hitto was elected to be Prime Minister of an interim opposition government by a vote of 35 Syrian Opposition Coalition executives out of 45 who voted in Istanbul. There are 72 SOC executives and 61 were present in Istanbul, but only 45 voted. Hitto is a Texas based Syrian, married to an American schoolteacher, Suzanne. They have four children, all born in the United States, where Mr. Hitto advocated for Muslim Americans after 9/11 as a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR. Born into a Kurdish family in Damascus, Mr. Hitto left Syria in the early 1980s and received an M.B.A. at Indiana Wesleyan University.
He was pushed forward for the position of interim Prime Minister of the opposition by Mustafa Sabbagh, who is Secretary General of the Opposition Coalition. Sabbagh is an Erdogan style Islamist, known to be close to the Qataris. He lives in Jeddah and was originally from Latakia, Syria. He was an important voice in the original construction of the Opposition Coalition back in December of 2012. According to Amr al-`Azm, Sabbagh made a deal with the Muslim brtherhood delegates in the SOC to back Hitto. The MB had been advocating Ussama Qadi as interim PM, but they agreed to drop him and back Hitto in a move to sideline Moaz al-Khatib. Other than the question of who would run day to day affairs in the interim government, one of the larger disputes between teh Moaz al-Khatib and Sabbagh factions was the question over talking to the Assad regime. Khatib had pleased the Americans by agreeing to the Geneva perameters, which call for forming a joint government with Assad remnants. Mustafa Sabbagh, Yasser Tabbara, Wael Mirza, and George Sabra wanted an end to this initiative, which some in the opposition view a tantamount to treason, as well as to outflank Khatib. To this end, Hitto’s first words were that he would not negotiate with the Assad regime.
The Saudis are evidently upset that Hitto was elected. Al-Arabia hardly reported on the news and only after some delay. The Turks, according to Azm, did not want an interim “government” to be formed at all, but only some sort of leadership. In short, the maneuvering has been intense. The process will leave some with a queasy feeling. Sabbagh and Qatar outmaneuvered their competitors for influence in the interim government.
A special word from Ghassan Hitto .. Walk for the Children of Syria
This is a New York Times story about Hitto’s son, Obaida.