In an unlikely twist that has left many political observers surprised, the man who won Tuesday’s election for leader of the Syrian rebels by just three points is not a homegrown Syrian rebel, but rather a naturalized American citizen from Texas who only just joined the Syrian rebels last year.
Enter Ghassan Hitto, a former information technology executive who emigrated from Syria to Texas decades ago, and who only just decided to join the Syrian rebels in the fight for freedom last year, leaving behind his American wife and four children in the process. Now, if the rebels manage to oust Assad’s government, Hitto will become the new leader of his original home country. Al Jazeera’s profile details Hitto’s family background:
Born in Damascus in 1963, Hitto has spent much of his life in the US, earning bachelor degrees in mathematics and computer science from Indiana’s Purdue University in 1989, and an MBA in 1994.
He is married to Suzanne Hitto, a school teacher, and has four children, including Obaida, a former high school football player who told the New York Times last year that he had sneaked into Syria to help the rebel forces.
“You’ve made me what I am. But now I need to go and do what I need to do,” Obaida wrote in a note to his parents before he left to become a media activist inside Syria, the newspaper reported.
Ghassan Hitto told the New York Times he had argued strenuously against his son’s decision, but lost the argument, with Obaida heading out one weekend while his father was on a business trip.
In the words of the Atlantic Wire, he’s a “Texan football dad.” And while some have worried that Hitto might harbor Islamist sympathies, he’s also earned support from liberal factions within the Syrian rebel force. In fact, most of the accusations of Islamism and hostility to the rebellion’s aims don’t come from Americans, but rather from Hitto’s opponents within that same force. The New York Times explains:
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.”
You can watch a video of Hitto himself speaking in the Dallas Fort Worth area on behalf of Syria’s opposition last year below: