Ghassan Hitto, the man elected early Tuesday morning to become the opposition Syrian National Coalition's first prime minister, also happens to be a North Texan. The Damascus-born activist was educated in the United States, worked as director of operations at a Collin County telecom and, according to the dean of students, served in a number of leadership capacities at the Brighter Horizons Academy in Garland, an Islamic private school. Most recently he was the school's board chairman.
"In general, his first priority has been to make sure kids have the best possible education and learn how to become future leaders in the world," Brighter Horizons Dean of Students Akram Mutawe tells Unfair Park. "He works very, very hard, and he's a great leader. It doesn't surprise me or probably anybody else that he's in this position."
Now, his first priority will be the administration of Syrian territory under rebel control.
In an Al Jazeera report, Hitto was described as the "consensus candidate," respected both by the coalition's Islamist and liberal factions. He founded the humanitarian aid organization Shaam Relief Foundation in 2011 and headed up the Coalition's humanitarian assistance arm.
Hitto and his son Obaida, a former high school football player, had reportedly argued over the young man's desire to join the opposition. Obaida left Texas while Hitto was away on a business trip and joined the Free Syrian Army, shooting video footage of the fighting on the front lines, The New York Times reported last fall. "Obaida, bless his heart, he made up his mind," Hitto said at the time.
Mutawe says Hitto has three other sons, all college-aged, and a wife who teaches high-school English.
The bloody civil war began during the Arab spring of 2011 with massive demonstrations. Bashar al-Assad's government responded with a violent crackdown on protesters. Opposition forces -- along with much of the international community -- demand the ouster of the Assad government. Yet the fighting drags on, claiming more than 70,000 lives, according to a recent United Nations estimate.