Last updated: 18 March, 2013

Syrian rebel prime minister Hitto, executive with an Islamist bent

Ghassan Hitto, who was elected on Monday to serve as the first prime minister of Syria’s opposition, is a business executive with Islamist leanings who has lived in the United States for decades.

Until last year, he was a senior executive at a technology communications firm in Texas, with a role in local civic life, but largely focused on his job of more than a decade.

His resume touts 25 years of experience with high-tech and telecommunications companies, including 16 years in executive management roles.

But in November he abruptly quit his job “to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution.”

Hitto had already become involved in humanitarian aid work, establishing the Shaam Relief Foundation in 2011, and helped organise fundraisers including a “Walk for Children of Syria Day.”

A devout Muslim, he has been involved for more than a decade with the running of the Brighter Horizons Academy, a Texas school billed as “an educational institution conducive to an Islamic learning environment.”

“Hope… comes from Allah. Our brothers and sisters inside Syria came to this realisation way back,” he said at a fundraiser for Syrian children last year.

“He loves us and will take care of us… (he) will bring relief, will take care of the people of Syria, will feed the people of Syria, will defend the people of Syria, and he alone can do that… but we must take action today,” he added then.

Hitto founded the Coalition of Free Syria activist group in 2011, and become a national board member of the Syrian American Council the following year.

A member of the Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella group representing a range of opposition organisations, Hitto heads its humanitarian assistance arm — the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit.

Coalition members described him as a “consensus candidate” in a divided vote. Respected by the Islamists within the opposition, he also had the approval of the liberals.

Supporters have praised his knack for building diplomatic ties that have been key to secure much-needed financial support for Syrians displaced by the conflict.

Hitto did a “stellar job” with the Coalition’s humanitarian committee, Coalition spokesman Khaled al-Saleh told AFP.

Hitto was born in Damascus in 1963, but has spent much of his life in the United States, earning bachelor degrees in mathematics and computer science from Indiana’s Purdue University in 1989, and an MBA in 1994.

He is married to Suzanne Hitto, a school teacher, and has four children, including Obaida, a former high school football player who told the New York Times last year that he had sneaked into Syria to help the rebel forces.

“You’ve made me what I am. But now I need to go and do what I need to do,” Obaida wrote in a note to his parents before he left to become a media activist inside Syria, the newspaper reported.

Ghassan Hitto told the newspaper he had argued strenuously against his son’s decision, but lost the argument, with Obaida heading out one weekend while his father was on a business trip.