BY: MICHAEL HUGHES
New Syrian opposition leader George Sabra
The Syrian National Council (SNC) elected Christian activist George Sabra as its leader during a gathering in Doha, Qatar on Friday, which could allay U.S. fears of the opposition group being dominated by Islamists.
Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the council did not accurately represent Syrian opposition forces on the ground, while the SNC accused the U.S. of undermining the rebellion and “sowing the seeds of division.”
Sabra vowed to work with other elements within the opposition to “accelerate the fall” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and claimed that the new executive council represents all sectors of society, including, for the first time, the tribes.
Moderate Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed Farooq Taifoor was elected as Sabra's deputy, who will help Sabra lead SNC's 41-member secretariat, one-third of which are Islamists. Immediately after his election Sabra made pleas to the international community for help:
"We need only one thing to support our right to survive and to protect ourselves: we need weapons, we need weapons.”
Sabra is a 65-year-old geography teacher, anti-Assad dissident and a writer for the Arabic version of Sesame Street. He said his election illustrates that accusations of sectarianism have been overblown: “The people here are Muslims and they elected a Christian.”
According to Aljazeera, the SNC has proposed establishing a 300-member congress that would run territory seized by the rebels, which would also add “revolutionary legitimacy” to its cause. However, alternative opposition groups met on Thursday in Qatar and proposed an umbrella body of 60 members that would represent the SNC, civilians, armed groups, Muslim scholars and others.
Meanwhile, during an interview on Russia Today, Assad accused the U.S. of supporting terrorists to destabilize Syria and said the West was trying to turn him into an international villain like former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Assad also called Turkish leader Recep Erdogan “the new sultan of the Ottoman empire” and accused him of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow his regime.
To critics, it comes as no surprise that a Russian news station has provided Assad with an outlet to express his views, considering Russia is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime.
The 20-month old conflict has led to over 35,000 deaths and 408,000 refugees, 11,000 of which poured into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan within the past 48 hours alone, while the United Nations reports that 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The U.S. remains wary of intervening for fear of arming and empowering extremists and forcing a power vacuum that could be filled by Islamic jihadists