The Syrian opposition coalition has elected Western-educated former businessman and US citizen Ghassan Hitto to oversee a provisional government for Syria’s rebel-held areas in a vote in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Hitto received 35 votes out of 49 ballots cast during the Syrian National Coalition meeting in the Turkish city. He is now in charge of forming a new cabinet that the opposition hopes will replace the government of Bashar Assad.
Opposition spokesmen called him a “consensus candidate” who commands both respect from the insurgency’s Islamists as well as its liberals.
Fifty-year-old Hitto was born in Damascus but has lived for decades in the United States, mostly in Texas. He is described as being heavily involved in various Islamic causes. He holds a bachelors in mathematics and computer science from Purdue University in Indiana, earning an MBA from the same school in 1994.
His election means that he will effectively serve as prime minister of the parts of Syria controlled by the anti-Assad insurgency.
The long-time tech executive’s resume includes 25 years with technology and telecommunications firms, with 16 of those as an executive manager.
Hitto left the corporate world in November 2012 “to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution.”
He is known for his involvement in public service causes, including the organization of a series of fundraising initiatives such as the Walk for Children of Syria Day. Hitto has also been a director of the Brighter Horizons Academy, a Texas school billing itself as “an educational institution conducive to an Islamic learning environment,” for more than ten years.
“Hope… comes from Allah. Our brothers and sisters inside Syria came to this realization way back,” Hitto said in public comments at a 2012 fundraiser for Syrian children.
“He loves us and will take care of us… (he) will bring relief, will take care of the people of Syria, will feed the people of Syria, will defend the people of Syria, and he alone can do that… but we must take action today,” he said at that event.
The year before that Hitto founded the Coalition of Free Syria, becoming a national board member of the Syrian American Council in 2012.
He heads the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit, the aid wing of the Syrian National Coalition, the country’s opposition bloc.
Hitto’s backers say he is a gifted diplomat, with a keen ability to secure financial aid for Syrians who have been displaced by the country’s two-year-long civil conflict.