Syrian opposition bloc appoints new leader

Damascus-born Khaled Khoja replaces Hadi al-Bahra as head of the National Coalition at meeting in Istanbul.

Khoja takes over a Western-backed organisation seen as out of touch with ordinary Syrians [Reuters]

Syria’s political opposition bloc, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has elected a new presidential committee and a president widely seen as not tied to any of the body’s international sponsors.

Khaled Khoja, a 49-year old Damascus-born doctor and businessman, won 56 votes out of 106 votes cast at a closed meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.

The 111-member body also elected a new secretary-general and vice presidents.

The role of the vice president reserved for a Kurdish member had not yet been filled, as the Kurdish bloc had not yet presented a new nominee, the National Coalition said.

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Khoja, a member of the ethnic Turkmen minority, takes over as president from Hadi al-Bahra, who is considered to have close links with Saudi Arabia.

Bahra served for one term and did not run for a second but will be in the political committee.

Despite having tenuous links with fighters on the ground and seen as out of touch with ordinary Syrians, the National Coalition remains one of the main parties in international discussions to find solutions to the almost four-year civil war.

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of contemporary history of the Middle East at Qatar University, says the National Coalition is yet to win over people.

“There is also concern about their economic situation, whether they can actually provide support or services to the people,” Zweiri told Al Jazeera.

“What we witnessed in the last two to three years is the absence of leadership. This is an issue we have to admit.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies