Moderate Islamic preacher expected to unify Syrian opposition groups
On Sunday, Syria's fractured opposition groups came together to form a unified organization, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Maath al-Khatib, a moderate Islamic preacher who has been imprisoned several times during the conflict in Syria, was elected president.
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"Great Syrian people, I ask you to unite and avoid the call for blood that the regime is pushing us into... Avoid Baathist speech and the personality cult, otherwise it will devour the homeland," he said.Skip to next paragraph
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Born in 1960, Alkhatib is scion of a Damascene religious family that has traditionally had major influence on the running of the Umayyad mosque, one of the holiest places in Islam in the cosmopolitan heart of Damascus.
"He is a unifying person. And an open mind. He does not think there a conspiracy behind everything. His father was the imam of the Umayyad Mosque, which is of big symbolic importance, and the regime failed to co-opt him," Adi said.
He was banned from preaching under the rule of Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, but he operated underground, campaigning for democratic reform in a group called the Damascus Declaration and teaching at the Dutch Institute in Damascus, while establishing the Islamic Civilisation Society and building ties with Western thinkers.
Alkhatib was abducted and jailed several times after his Douma speech, but fled Syria only after his friends warned him he would be killed like scores of activists assassinated by the secret police or disappeared, according to people close to him.