Syrian opposition elects US-educated tech exec as interim PM
The Syrian opposition coalition has elected Western-educated
former businessman and US citizen Ghassan Hitto to oversee a
provisional government for Syria's rebel-held areas in a vote in
Istanbul on Tuesday.
Hitto, who is viewed as a ‘consensus candidate’ among Syria’s liberal and Islamist factions, received 35 votes out of 49 ballots cast during the Syrian National Coalition meeting.
Several high-profile members of the opposition, including tribal leader Ahmad Jarba and veteran opposition campaigners Walid Bunni and Kamal Labwani, withdrew from the session prior to the vote to protest what they say is a foreign-backed campaign to elect Hitto, Reuters reports.
Syria’s opposition coalition had faced considerable pressure from the United States and its allies to unite under a single leader and establish a clear operational hierarchy as a condition of receiving more aid.
Others have accused him of being selected by the Muslim Brotherhood, expressing concerns Syria could go the route of other Arab Spring countries.
"We don't want what happened in Egypt to happen in Syria. They hijacked the revolution," Labwani told AFP.
His election means that he will effectively serve as prime minister of the parts of Syria controlled by the anti-Assad insurgency, though establishing administrative control over those areas will pose considerable challenges.
A political neophyte who was virtually unknown in opposition circles, Hitto’s profile has recently risen to prominence via a series of public service and fundraising initiatives, such as the Walk for Children of Syria Day.
Fifty-year-old Hitto was born in Damascus but has lived for decades in the United States, mostly in Texas. He is described as being heavily involved in various Islamic causes. He holds a bachelor’s in mathematics and computer science from Purdue University in Indiana, earning an MBA from the same school in 1994.
The long-time tech executive's resume includes 25 years with technology and telecommunications firms, with 16 of those as an executive manager.
Hitto left the corporate world in November 2012 "to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution." Hitto has also been a director of the Brighter Horizons Academy, a Texas school billing itself as
"an educational institution conducive to an Islamic learning environment," for more than 10 years.
"Hope... comes from Allah. Our brothers and sisters inside Syria came to this realization way back," Hitto said in public comments at a 2012 fundraiser for Syrian children.
A year earlier, Hitto founded the Coalition of Free Syria, becoming a national board member of the Syrian American Council in 2012.
He heads the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit, the aid wing of the Syrian National Coalition, the country's opposition bloc.