Will Syria opposition group choose a Kurd as leader?
ISTANBUL - Leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council met in Turkey on Saturday to pick a new leader after the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun last month to avert divisions in the opposition bloc.
Sources in the group said the aim was to pick a "consensus" candidate who would be acceptable to Islamists, liberals and nationalists. They said it could be Abdel Basset Sayda," a Kurd, and member of the SNC's executive.
The ballot came as Western powers moved to slap sanctions on Damascus amid mounting anger over a massacre in a central town blamed on regime troops and fears of a full-fledged civil war in Syria.
The SNC, the main group bringing together opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, has struggled to unite regime critics ranging from liberal academics to Islamists, or to gain full legitimacy with activists and rebels inside the country.
Ghalioun resigned on May 17 to avert a possible split in the SNC after activists on the ground accused him of hogging power and not coordinating enough with the Local Coordination Committees, which are spearheading anti-government protests on the street.
His detractors also accused him of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to play a leading role within the SNC.
"The selection of a president has been based on the criteria of who is a consensual person, somebody who will favour this process of reform and I think he is really the favourite candidate in that sense," said Bassma Kodmani, the SNC spokeswoman for external relations.
"There is a consensus inside the council that there should be a rotating presidency, so we are now changing the president for the coming three months."
Sayda, who lives in exile in Sweden, joined the SNC as an "independent activist," according to his friend and fellow Kurdish militant Massud Akko.
He is member of the SNC's executive and heads the bloc's human rights department.
He was born in 1956 in Amuda, a mostly Kurdish city in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassakeh.
"He is a honest, level-headed and cultured," Akko said.
Insiders said Sayda's lack of ties to any particular group and his reputation as a moderate would help him win the post. The nomination of a Kurd would also help the SNC prove it has broad appeal within Syria's diverse ethnic groups.
The SNC has been criticised for not representing the full diversity of Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and other ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
The group's next leader will face reforming the council to give it more credibility with domestic opposition activists, the Free Syrian Army and other armed rebels and the international community.
Most opposition forces agreed in March, after difficult negotiations, that the SNC would be the "formal representative" of the Syrian people, despite calls for its restructuring.
The international Friends of Syria group, which seeks to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, has also recognised the SNC as a "legitimate representative of the Syrian people".
But the group's leaders admit that much more must be done to cement its legitimacy, with Ghalioun saying last month the SNC was riven with divisions, in particular between Islamists and secular activists.