The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) voted during a meeting in Istanbul on Saturday to name Ahmad Saleh Toameh, a dentist and longtime political activist, to lead the group. Toameh’s election comes as the United States and Russia have reached a deal to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and are seeking a breakthrough on broad talks to end the long and deadly Syrian civil war.
Toameh (طعمة) is the second SNC member to fill the post. Ghassan Hitto resigned in July after serving only a few months. In an indication of the divisions that have hampered the opposition, many members had opposed Hitto because of his perceived proximity to the Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood.
Toameh will be charged with organising governance in parts of Syria controlled by rebel factions. He later said in a speech that they will work on returning Syria to a state that respects human life and rights.
According to the Syrian National Coalition, Toameh has a history of dissent from the Syrian government going back to 2001, when he joined groups calling for more freedoms and the release of political prisoners.
A biography released by the SNC says Toameh was detained multiple times by the Syrian government for his work and once was sentenced to two-and-half years in prison. The Syrian National Coalition says he later joined the opposition using a fake name because he was living in Syria. After his last detention in 2012, he left the country for Turkey.