DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Syria's main opposition group in exile elected a left-wing veteran dissident born into a Christian family as its new president on Friday, a choice that could help counter Western concerns about possible Islamist influence over the group.
George Sabra, a Communist-turned-social-democrat and former high school teacher who once wrote for the Arabic version of Sesame Street, said his election as head of the Syrian National Council is proof that Syrians are not beholden to sectarianism.
"This day is a victory of the Syrian people to prove all over the world the reality of the Syrians ... as young people shouted in the streets, 'Syrian people are one, one, one,'" he said moments after his victory was announced at a conference in Doha, Qatar.
Sabra's election came on the eve of a crucial decision for the SNC.
The Istanbul-based group, widely seen as out of touch with activists fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad, must decide Saturday whether to join a broader opposition leadership, an idea promoted by Western and Arab backers of those trying to oust President Bashar Assad.
Under the plan, the new group would form a transitional government in rebel-held areas of Syria and presumably serve as a conduit for foreign aid to the opposition. The rebels' Western backers have declined to send weapons to the rebels, for fear they will fall into the wrong hands.
Syria's opposition says it needs weapons to break the military stalemate in Syria and defeat Assad. Asked Friday what he wants from the international community, Sabra said: "Weapons, weapons, weapons."
Meanwhile, SNC members have expressed reservations about the new leadership group, fearing that the SNC's influence would be diluted. The SNC, still the largest political opposition group, would get only about one third of some 60 seats in the new group to make room for activists inside Syria.
The SNC was to give its answer on Friday, but asked for more time after its own leadership elections dragged on and divisions arose among the members over whether to join the internationally backed initiative.
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