Syrian opposition re-elects Qamishli-born Jarba as leader ahead of Geneva talks

BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse – 6.1.2014 – Syria’s main opposition National Coalition re-elected Ahmad Jarba as its leader during a general assembly meeting in Istanbul on Jan. 5, the coalition said in a statement.

Jarba won 65 votes, beating his only rival Riad Hijab — the best-known defector from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad — by 13 votes.

Jarba, who is seen as close to key rebel backer Saudi Arabia, was first elected to head the Coalition in July, and will now lead the group for another six months. His re-election comes at a sensitive time, less than three weeks away from slated peace talks in Switzerland that would bring rebels and regime representatives to the table.

The Coalition is set to discuss on Jan. 6 whether to take part in the peace talks, though a key bloc — the Syrian National Council — has already announced it will boycott the so-called Geneva 2 process. That has raised fears the Coalition may end up rejecting the talks altogether. According to council member and veteran dissident Samir Nashar, “Ahmad Jarba does not want to go to Geneva.” The Coalition initially announced the names of three members chosen to share the vice presidency, but later said ther would be a fresh vote Monday for both that post and to elect a secretary general. It was expected that either powerful, Qatar-linked businessman Mustafa al-Sabbagh or the current post-holder, Badr Jamous would be named to the latter post. Born in 1969 in the northeastern city of Qamishli, on the border with Turkey, Jarba is a Sunni Muslim who has tried to convince Arab and Western nations to arm the rebels. In his six months as Coalition leader, he has appeared more subdued than previous opposition chiefs who had higher profiles as veteran dissidents.

 Jarba’s re-election comes deep into a crisis within the main opposition group, which is based outside Syria.  Many opponents and rebels on the ground feel the Coalition has failed to represent them.