Who is Ghassn Hitto? Why Was He backed to be Prime Minister of an Interim Gov by Mustafa Sabbagh?

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 63 active members of which 48 voted and of which 4 cast blank ballots. Hitto received 35 of the remaining votes.

Hitto  is a Texas based Syrian, married to an American school teacher, 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 brotherhood delegates in the SOC to back Hitto. The MB had been advocating Osama Kadi 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 the 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 parameters, 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.

One can defend the process by claiming that this is the way politics works. Qatar is putting up the money so why shouldn’t they get an important voice in the process? Anyway, if you head a government like this, you need money. Where are they going to get it? Only the Qataris are willing to put up some money. The US is not laying out cash. If Hitto can spend 100 million in Aleppo and the East, he can show the local population that the opposition coalition can bring good news and real benefits. They must bring money into the liberated area in order to build some credibility. Most importantly, no one seems to have a better plan. The opposition needs to get the ball rolling. Hitto seems like someone who has a can-do mentality and some experience as an executive.


A special word from Ghassan Hitto .. Walk for the Children of Syria

This is a New York Times story about Hitto’s son, Obaida.

Westerners With Roots in Syria Trickle In to Help Rebels
By J. DAVID GOODMAN
Published: October 8, 2012

The night before leaving his parents’ home in Wayne, Tex., to join the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Obaida Hitto left a bouquet of white roses for his mother, with a sterling silver locket and a note: “You’ve made me what I am. But now I need to go and do what I need to do.” Courtesy Obaida Hitto

Obaida Hitto of Texas went to Deir al-Zour in Syria to help in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Hitto, 25, a former high school football player, deferred his plans for law school to sneak into Syria to assist the rebels by making videos and spreading information on the Internet to help their cause. “I’m one of them,” Mr. Hitto said proudly during a recent telephone interview. …Ghassan Hitto, 50, an information technology executive who lived in Texas until recently, the Syrian opposition coalition concluded months of contentious efforts to unite behind a leader, under pressure from the United States and its allies, which demanded that the opposition set up clear chains of command as a condition of increasing aid to the rebels.

Mr. Hitto, a relative unknown in opposition politics who rose to prominence recently through efforts to improve the delivery of humanitarian aid, was far from a unanimous choice. After a day of maneuvering and voting on Monday that lasted into early Tuesday, he won 35 votes, just three more than Assad Mustafa, a former agricultural minister under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad…. Even opposition leaders outside Syria are divided on whether an interim government makes sense. Fahed al-Masri, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army’s unified command, questioned how a government could function when it controlled little territory or money yet would be held responsible for the fate of more than one million Syrian refugees and several times that number displaced inside the country.

“Welcome, government,” Mr. Masri said sardonically.

Mr. Hitto — who ruled out negotiations with Mr. Assad, another blow to wavering efforts to find a political solution — has argued that forming a government would help keep Syria from slipping further into chaos.

“There is always a possibility that this regime might fall suddenly,” he said, in a video posted on YouTube to announce his candidacy. “And we can’t avoid a political vacuum in the country and the ensuing chaos unless there is a transitional government.”

He called for “a government of institutions and law” that would be accountable and transparent.

The stakes are high. Many nations have recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, meaning that if Mr. Hitto is able to form a cabinet, which is far from certain given the group’s fractiousness, his government could try to claim Syria’s frozen state assets and other levers of power.

With his many years in Texas, Mr. Hitto may seem like an unusual selection to lead a government struggling to establish street credibility with rebels — or an uprising facing allegations from Mr. Assad’s supporters that it is an American creation.

But he said he could not resist getting involved, especially after his son Obaida, 25, sneaked off to Syria and joined rebel fighters to shoot videos, deliver humanitarian aid and spread word of their struggle.

Mr. Hitto and his wife, Suzanne, an American schoolteacher, 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.

He traveled to the Middle East last fall to learn more and never went back. “I have a career back home that I’m in the process of destroying,” he said jovially over lunch recently in Istanbul.

In his role heading the humanitarian aid arm of the coalition under Suhair Atassi, a coalition vice president and respected activist from Damascus, Mr. Hitto quickly came into close contact with American and other foreign officials. Frustrated with what he saw as anemic and disorganized international efforts to aid displaced Syrians, he hired internationally known aid consultants to do a survey that found that the number of needy people in six Syrian provinces was more than 50 percent higher than United Nations estimates. …. Born in Damascus, Mr. Hitto left Syria in the early 1980s and received an M.B.A. at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is of Kurdish descent, which the council may have seen as a plus since it has been criticized for not reaching out more to Syria’s minorities.

Some council members said Mr. Hitto was the choice of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has long been banned and persecuted under the Assad family’s government and that plays a powerful role in the coalition. That could give him credibility among some in the Sunni Muslim-dominated uprising, but it also concerns some opposition members who feel the Brotherhood already wields disproportionate sway. Brotherhood leaders say they seek a civil, not an Islamic, state, but some in the opposition worry that it will impose a religious agenda.

One activist from Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect said the Brotherhood was “trying to stab the revolution once more.”

Another, Yamen Hseen, said that an interim government running northern Syria smacked of dividing the country.

“A government formed abroad, consisting of people we don’t know, nor the mechanism by which they were picked, it just makes me worry,” he said. “I think it is a result of other countries’ demands and not the demands and needs of the people and the revolution.”

There has been a rise in the number of foreign fighters, many of them Islamist extremists. But there has also been a small, though noticeable, number of men like Mr. Hitto, of Syrian descent and with Western passports, who have made the journey to join the Free Syrian Army. Experts estimate they number roughly a hundred and come from the United States, Britain, France and Canada.

Their presence is not enough to shift the tide of the battle, but they add another element of determination and complexity to a bloody landscape where loyalties and ambitions are often unclear.

“Even though he’s not fighting on the front lines, I would consider him a foreign fighter,” Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Mr. Hitto. Mr. Zelin keeps a rough tally of foreign fighters in Syria based on news reports and Islamist postings and said the two groups together number in the thousands.

Mr. Hitto, who has extended family in Damascus, has spent five months posting videos and photographs from Deir al-Zour, sometimes very near the fighting, many marked by billowing plumes of thick smoke, the clack of gunfire and narrations that shake with an activist’s conviction and anger, delivered in an American accent. “All around us there is shooting,” he said in an Aug. 1 clip of a burning building. “The world seems to not care.”

Few in Mr. Hitto’s position have made the decision to stay as long as he has, especially as residents have fled areas of fighting.

“Eighty-five percent of the civilian population has left the city,” Mr. Hitto said in a Skype interview last month from Deir al-Zour. “If people only saw what was really happening to the people here they might do the same thing I did.”….

Syrian Rebels Pick U.S. Citizen to Lead Interim Government
By ANNE BARNARD
Published: March 18, 2013

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s main exile opposition coalition elected a naturalized Syrian-born American citizen early Tuesday to be the first prime minister of an interim Syrian government, charged with funneling aid to rebels inside Syria and offering an alternative to the government of President Bashar al-Assad…. Born in Damascus, Mr. Hitto left Syria in the early 1980s and received an M.B.A. at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is of Kurdish descent, which the council may have seen as a plus since it has been criticized for not reaching out more to Syria’s minorities…..

By choosing Ghassan Hitto, 50, an information technology executive who lived in Texas until recently, the Syrian opposition coalition concluded months of contentious efforts to unite behind a leader, under pressure from the United States and its allies, which demanded that the opposition set up clear chains of command as a condition of increasing aid to the rebels.

Mr. Hitto, a relative unknown in opposition politics who rose to prominence recently through efforts to improve the delivery of humanitarian aid, was far from a unanimous choice. After a day of maneuvering and voting on Monday that lasted into early Tuesday, he won 35 votes, just three more than Assad Mustafa, a former agricultural minister under Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.

Mr. Hitto faces formidable challenges in his quest to to establish administrative authority over areas of northern Syria that have been secured by the rebels….

Even opposition leaders outside Syria are divided on whether an interim government makes sense. Fahed al-Masri, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army’s unified command, questioned how a government could function when it controlled little territory or money yet would be held responsible for the fate of more than one million Syrian refugees and several times that number displaced inside the country.

“Welcome, government,” Mr. Masri said sardonically.

Mr. Hitto — who ruled out negotiations with Mr. Assad, another blow to wavering efforts to find a political solution — has argued that forming a government would help keep Syria from slipping further into chaos.

“There is always a possibility that this regime might fall suddenly,” he said, in a video posted on YouTube to announce his candidacy. “And we can’t avoid a political vacuum in the country and the ensuing chaos unless there is a transitional government.”

He called for “a government of institutions and law” that would be accountable and transparent.

The stakes are high. Many nations have recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, meaning that if Mr. Hitto is able to form a cabinet, which is far from certain given the group’s fractiousness, his government could try to claim Syria’s frozen state assets and other levers of power.

With his many years in Texas, Mr. Hitto may seem like an unusual selection to lead a government struggling to establish street credibility with rebels — or an uprising facing allegations from Mr. Assad’s supporters that it is an American creation.

But he said he could not resist getting involved, especially after his son Obaida, 25, sneaked off to Syria and joined rebel fighters to shoot videos, deliver humanitarian aid and spread word of their struggle.

Mr. Hitto and his wife, Suzanne, an American schoolteacher, 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.

He traveled to the Middle East last fall to learn more and never went back. “I have a career back home that I’m in the process of destroying,” he said jovially over lunch recently in Istanbul.

In his role heading the humanitarian aid arm of the coalition under Suhair Atassi, a coalition vice president and respected activist from Damascus, Mr. Hitto quickly came into close contact with American and other foreign officials. Frustrated with what he saw as anemic and disorganized international efforts to aid displaced Syrians, he hired internationally known aid consultants to do a survey that found that the number of needy people in six Syrian provinces was more than 50 percent higher than United Nations estimates.

Some council members said Mr. Hitto was the choice of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has long been banned and persecuted under the Assad family’s government and that plays a powerful role in the coalition. That could give him credibility among some in the Sunni Muslim-dominated uprising, but it also concerns some opposition members who feel the Brotherhood already wields disproportionate sway. Brotherhood leaders say they seek a civil, not an Islamic, state, but some in the opposition worry that it will impose a religious agenda.

One activist from Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect said the Brotherhood was “trying to stab the revolution once more.”

Another, Yamen Hseen, said that an interim government running northern Syria smacked of dividing the country.

“A government formed abroad, consisting of people we don’t know, nor the mechanism by which they were picked, it just makes me worry,” he said. “I think it is a result of other countries’ demands and not the demands and needs of the people and the revolution.”

Comments (56)


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51. zoo said:

#46 Tara

“They will be happy to return to normal life after the fall of Bashar.”

Your naivety and happy ending is touching.
Unfortunately in war and politics there are never happy endings.
Once an equilibrium has been broken, problems linger for decades, sometime centuries before they melt away in a new found equilibrium.
The stains always remain for generations to come.

For once AIG is realistic.

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March 19th, 2013, 5:45 pm

 

52. majedkhaldoun said:

Zoo said he has hope
1- the opposition divide
2- Erdogan will not get elected
Zoo quit predicting,he ,now hopes,since his predictions failed, he is entering the desperate stage.

in other comment he describe the defected soldiers as terrorists,and says Sunnis are his enemy.
in other comment he said,how do you know God does not like infidel and liers?
Zoo is losing it,does not realize what he is saying.
Zoo may be if you slow down you will say something that is rational and make sense.

There is difference between Mr.Khatib,and Mr. Hito, Khatib speaks directly , not reading paper, his words are full of emotion,and has strong voice, Mr. Hito reads from prepared paper and does not look to his listeners directly, eye contact is important it helps people who are listening to stay connected ,Hito needs to learn to to talk directly. when you read from a paper,,listeners lose this contact

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March 19th, 2013, 5:45 pm

 

53. ALI said:

One of the history changing moments, please see at 1:55 when Hafez delivers the news of Basel’s death.

It’s a heart breaking video but it’s ok another evidence of the greatness of Hafez, he sacrificed his own son at 32 years old for Syria and its people

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March 19th, 2013, 5:50 pm

 

54. zoo said:

Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

March 19th, 2013, 5:58 pm

 

55. Tara said:

Zoo,

Yes Zoo, I only want a happy ending where evil is defeated and lovers marry at the end. Can’t help it..

A new post is up.

Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

March 19th, 2013, 5:58 pm

 

56. Iran War Weekly | Eslkevin's Blog said:

[…] to be Prime Minister of an Interim Gov by Mustafa Sabbagh?” Syria Comment [March 19, 2013]http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=18160; Franklin Lamb, “Could the White House Have Dreamt for More?” Counterpunch [March 22, […]

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March 26th, 2013, 1:55 am

 

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