Dubai: Veteran dissident George Sabra, a Christian former communist, was elected president of the main opposition bloc the Syrian National Council at a meeting in Doha on Friday.
George Sabra comes from the mixed Damascus suburb of Qatana and marched in early street demonstrations demanding Bashar Al Assad’s removal last year before fleeing the country when secret police began targeting prominent pro-democracy campaigners.
A 65-year-old geography teacher, Sabra was known as a fierce critic of Al Assad before the uprising began. He is close to Riad Al Turk, a famed opposition figure who still operates underground in Syria.
Sabra is one of the writers of the Arabic version of the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street.
The SNC’s 41-member general secretariat, itself newly elected, chose Sabra, who garnered 28 votes, as part of efforts to revamp the group working to oust President Bashar Al Assad.
Farouq Taifur of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected his vice-president.
A long-time opponent of Al Assad rule, first under the current president’s father Hafez and later after Bashar took over in 2000, Sabra left Syria secretly at the beginning of the year.
He was jailed for eight years under Hafez Al Assad, and detained twice - for a month and then two months - after the uprising erupted in March last year.
Sabra was freed in September 2011, and immediately went into hiding before his departure early this year.
The election of a Christian as SNC leader sends a strong message to the international community, given that the Al Assad regime paints itself as defenders of Christianity against Islamist extremism.