It's hard to decide how Ghassan Hitto's recent election as interim prime minister of the Syrian opposition will play out in the near future, but the United States must be a little bit pumped. Or at least optimistic. After all, the 50-year-old former businessman is a naturalized American citizen who lived and worked in Texas for decades. Hitto, a Perdue graduate twice over, sounds like a real community leader, too. He spent more than a decade helping to run a small school for Islamic students, founded the Shaam Relief fund for Syrian refugees in 2011 and worked as a senior executive for a local technology communications firm in Wayne, Texas. Hitto abruptly quit his job last November, according to the AFP, "to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution." And suddenly, the football dad from Texas finds himself at the top of those ranks.
From an American perspective, Hitto's election bodes well for future relations with rebel factions. Should the rebels win the war, it bodes well for U.S.-Syria diplomatic relations that the head of the government — at least in the beginning — is an American citizen. However, it's so far unclear if the rebel factions will actually recognize the ex-patriot as the head of their government. Hitto was born in Damascus but, as we said, has spent much of his life in the United States. There's little doubt about his commitment, though. Hitto's spent the last two years starting up relief organizations and raising money for the opposition. His football star son even left Texas to go and fight on the front lines and was injured by a bomb in the fighting. And inevitably, support for Hitto was strong to say the least. He won 35 out of the 49 votes cast by members of the Syrian opposition in Istanbul on Monday, the times the number of the second place candidate.
Skeptics are quick to draw scrutiny over Hitto's Islamist leanings. After all, Islamist regimes haven't necessarily worked out well elsewhere in the region, specifically in Egypt. It ought to be noted that Hitto's won support not only from the Islamist factions of the Syrian opposition but from the liberals too. And as for that ex-pat bit, Hitto played down the relevance in a YouTube video. "A lot of the sons of this country had to leave for various reasons," he said. "But Syrian people must carry their homeland in their heart wherever they go."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.