He said the Syria that he and others are fighting for “doesn’t have minorities and majorities. We have citizenship. And as I am a citizen, my colleagues elected me.”
Whether that sentiment translates inside Syria is less clear. In recent weeks, fighting has broken out between Arab rebels and Kurdish militias in Aleppo, and some Sunni Muslims have vowed revenge on Alawites for their support of Assad. The country’s organized Christian religious groups have to date remained firmly allied with the Assad government, saying they fear that the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels won’t protect their rights once Assad is gone. There are also concerns that Islamist militants are playing a growing role in the rebellion.
Concerns of the growing influence of Islamists among the rebels are often cited by U.S. officials for their hesitancy to provide weapons, though many in the opposition argue that the U.S. failure to provide weapons is strengthening the Islamists.
Still to be determined is how Sabra’s election might affect plans, backed by the United States, the Arab League and Qatar, to restructure the opposition.
Under the U.S-backed move, dissident Riad Seif, a successful industrialist from Damascus and former member of the Syrian Parliament, had proposed setting up a new organization, the Syrian National Initiative, with a majority of members not from the Syrian National Council. The Syrian National Initiativewould set up a smaller body of technocrats, who would deal directly with the international community and help funnel humanitarian aid into the country.
Sabra said the SNC would discuss under what conditions it would participate in the new group on Saturday. Sabra said the SNC also would consider an alternative plan that would set up a 300-member assembly primarily of fighters and officials inside Syria to elect a transitional government.
“Our main goal is to unite the opposition to bring down the regime,” Sabra said.
One surprise aspect of the Syrian National Council’s vote Friday was that it was conducted in the open, following a more or less democratic process under which its membership base of 425 voted first for a general secretariat of 41, which then selected the executive committee and the president.
When it came time to vote for the president, the council allowed reporters to witness the process.