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A model leader for Syria?

A moderate Muslim preacher who suffered as a freedom fighter in Syria has been chosen as opposition leader to Assad. Now, Moaz al-Khatib must unite a people torn by civil war and religion.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / November 14, 2012

Activist Muslim preacher Mouaz al-Khatib was elected as the first leader of a new Syrian opposition umbrella group that hopes to win international recognition and prepare for a post-Assad Syria.

REUTERS

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Historians often haggle over whether leaders drive events or ideas do. And scholars will certainly do so again regarding Moaz al-Khatib of Syria.

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He is a moderate Islamic preacher and well-respected activist for freedom who was chosen last week to lead a grand coalition of opponents to the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.

He has been all but anointed by most Arab nations, France, and Turkey – and perhaps soon by the Obama administration – as a legitimate successor to Mr. Assad. For now, though, he serves as a potential galvanizing leader for a revolution mired in extreme violence and drifting away from its democratic roots and toward jihadist terrorists.

Mr. Khatib is a unique creature of his culture, much like Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar (Burma) and the late Corazon Aquino in the Philippines. He carries the credibility of being a victim of repression, having been jailed many times for his pro-democracy views and injured by a bomb. Yet he carries few grudges as he clings to a higher view of humanity as redeemable and reconcilable.

Take, for example, his statement to a crowd near Damascus soon after the Syrian uprising began last year: “My brothers, we lived all our lives, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Druze, as a one-hearted community. And with us lived our dear brothers [Christians] who follow Jesus, peace be upon him. We should adhere to this bond between us and protect it at all times.”

A lover of metaphors from his years as a Sunni preacher in Damascus’s historical Umayyad Mosque, he recently painted this image of a tolerant and inclusive Syria to come: “Any garden is so nice if full of flowers of all kinds.”

Khatib’s background and oratory may not only help heal a fragmented opposition, but also convince Syria’s Alawite religious minority that it can safely withdraw its support from an Alawite-dominated regime.

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