How surprise gesture secured Sabra’s victory

Despite his loss in first round, an act of generosity from an unlikely quarter helped George Sabra became SNC leader.

In order to become the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), any candidate has to first be elected into a 41-member secretariat, and next onto an executive committee of 11 members, who then vote for a leader. 

George Sabra failed in the first stage, missing by one vote the chance to join the secretariat, so, you might wonder, how has he just become leader of the SNC?

Many blamed Sabra’s initial defeat on the closed-list system, which has benefited the well-organised Islamists [who won a third of the seats] and put the loose, secular coalitions at a disadvantage.

Sabra’s loss not only disappointed people inside the council, but also many ordinary Syrians opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Sabra, for many, is not just a member of an opposition bloc. He is also a struggler. A long-time opponent of Assad rule, he was jailed for eight years and detained twice after the uprising erupted in March last year.

Since Sabra is a Christian, the SNC tried to work around the bylaws and offer him a seat in the secretariat as part of a minority groups’ quota.

But Sabra, a secular leftist from the Damascus suburbs, refused to accept this opportunity.

“He is not a politician, or an academic. He is a revolutionary. He doesn’t speak in abstract. His tone conveys our anger and pain. He is our voice,” said Faraj Hammoud Faraj, an SNC member and part of the Higher Council for the Syrian Revolution (HCSR), an activist network based in Syria.

The HCSR, which works in both relief efforts and supporting Syria’s rebels, has been accused of being an intolerant hardline Islamist group, Faraj says.

But the night before elections, the HCSR made a move that could change this perception.

The group, which won three seats in the SNC secretariat, decided to invite Sabra to join their group, take the seat of one of its members and represent it.

“When Wasel al-Shamali offered him his seat, George Sabra cried,” Faraj says. “We all cried.”

The rest is history.

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