Daily Israel Report

Help Wanted: Syrian Opposition Leader

Just days after forming a 140-member national council, Syrian protesters say they want a leader to take the reigns and lead them to freedom.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 9/20/2011, 1:15 AM

Burhan Ghalioun
Burhan Ghalioun
Screen Capture

For months Syria's opposition has been a disparate panoply of protest organizers and rights groups riding herd on a chaotic populist uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

But as unrest in Syria enters its sixth month and the death toll from Assad's brutal crackdown tops 3,000, there is mounting concern over the absence of leadership capable of leading the masses to freedom.

"There have been a dozen conferences and statements in several cities but nothing to show for it,” one protester told the Economist. “Meanwhile we continue to go out and take the bullets.”

According to Reuters, Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, newly appointed chairman of the nascent 140-member Syrian national council, is being courted to seize the reigns and lead the charge.

Ghalioun, an long-term expatriate who remains politically unaffiliated, is a professor of sociology at the Sorbonne University in Paris. At first blush he seems wholly unsuited to oust the firmly entrenched and recalcitrant Assad.

But Bassma Kodmani, an activist close to the national council, told AFP that Ghalioun has "a special popularity with the street".

"People trust him very much," an activist from Homs, also happens to be Ghalioun's home town, told the Al Jazeera network by telephone. "Also he is acceptable to the West, as he's secular."

Organizers admit a primary conundrum for the opposition has been leaders in Syria insisting on running the show amid a bloody, disorienting, high-speed crackdown. Ghalioun appears to be one of the few outside Syria locals are willing to consider as a representative.

According to one protest organizer, who spoke with the Associated Press, it is precisely Ghalioun's lack of political pedigree is what makes him an attractive candidate for leadership.

Ghalioun does not come from a powerful or prominent family and has not been involved in the constant jockeying for position that has undermined previous attempts to organize. This, and his frequent broadcasts and articles supporting the regime, has turned him into the grass roots candidate to beat.

Perhaps more importantly, he is outside Assad's deadly clutches.