Syria Opposition PM: A Man the West Can “Deal With”

Syrians gather around vegetable carts at a local market in Maarat al-Numan, in the northwestern province of Idlib, on 20 March 2013. (Photo: AFP – Bulent Kilic)
 
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013
 
The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) finally managed to pull it off. After many delays and disputes, it assigned the task of forming an “interim government” to Ghassan Hitto.
This was a success for the SNC’s principal component, the Muslim Brotherhood-led Syrian National Council, which promoted his candidacy and provided 22 of the 35 executive committee votes in his favor.

The new head of government proceeded to revert to the SNC’s founding statement: no dialogue with the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

This was a setback for recent international efforts, nurtured by both Washington and Moscow, to encourage a political settlement. It’s another blow to the Geneva framework and a boon for foreign arming of the opposition and awarding the opposition with Syria’s seat at the Arab League.
The annual Arab summit conference is due to be held in Doha next week, March 27 to 28, and the new prime minister may be given the Syrian seat there.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government would still occupy its UN seat. A contradiction is brewing here, and Hitto will soon set out on a world tour aimed at securing international recognition and various forms of aid to enable the establishment of “liberated zones.”

If the SNC government succeeds in its endeavors, it will have made progress in reenacting the Libyan scenario, with its liberated zone serving as a base.

But we’re still in the early phases. It will take weeks for the government to be formed. And it will have problems dealing with Islamist and foreign paramilitary groups that are not under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella and control much of the supposed government’s professed territory.
The formation of an interim opposition government marks a success for the combined efforts of Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to assert their control over the offshore Syrian opposition, refurbish its international image, and reverse any impressions of its “failure.”

Yet the SNC does not see the move as a stab in the US’ back, one member stressed to Al-Akhbar. He suggested the interim government could be turned into the transitional government set forth in the Geneva framework if Assad were to step down.

Hitto was born in Damascus in 1964 and is of Kurdish origin. He moved to the US in the early 1980s and became an American citizen. He ran an information technology firm in Texas before leaving his job in November last year and moving to Turkey to work full-time for the Syrian “revolution.”
He was active from the start of the protest movement two years ago, helping set up the Free Syria Coalition and the Shaam Relief Foundation in the US. After the SNC was formed, he established and headed its Relief and Humanitarian Aid Coordination Unit that delivers supplies across the Turkish border.

He is married to an American schoolteacher and they have four children. The oldest, Obaida, moved to a rebel-held part of Syria several months ago to be an aid worker.

The fact that the vast majority of Syrians have never heard of Hitto is not considered a problem by his backers.

“That’s not the point,” SNC member Khaled al-Nasser told Al-Akhbar. Rather, the post was created because “Western countries and the Arab League want an opposition executive authority that they can deal with.”

Nasser said Hitto’s Kurdish origins were merely “a happy coincidence,” noting that he does not actually speak Kurdish.

A source close to the Syrian government charged that the formation of an opposition government was a ploy to strengthen the US’ hand at the negotiating table by enabling it to claim there are two rival governments in Syria.

The source said that Qatar and Turkey would not have gone ahead with the move without Washington’s knowledge, and that while Damascus will not be able to ignore the existence of an opposition government on the international stage, it will not have a major impact on developments.
The source suggested the move may also have been designed to provoke Damascus into pulling out of efforts to promote a political settlement, but vowed that this would never happen.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
 

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