Hadi al-Bahra was known before the revolution. Studying in the US and working in Saudi Arabia, he accumulated experience which he used to help the Syrian revolution. His name surfaced three time, first as the head of the opposition negotiations delegation for Geneva talks with the regime; the second was when he was elected president of the National Coalition; and the third when he was selected to lead the opposition team for drafting a new constitution for Syria. His selection was met with satisfaction, but some saw he equated the victim and the killer as the same in his remarks at the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee.
Hadi al-Bahra was born in Damascus in 1959. He left Syria early in his life for the United States where he got his Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wichita. Little was known about him before the Syrian revolution broke out. He spent most of his adult life in Saudi Arabia, where he managed several hospitals and businesses, including Horizon for Trade Development, of which he became its executive director between 1987 and 2003, then the general director of Horizon Global Trade between 2004 and 2005, and later executive director of Technomedia.
Bahra is fluent in English and he has extensive experience in communications systems and display technology.
The Syrian Revolution
Few people in Syria had heard of Hadi al-Bahra before the revolution or even at the beginning of the protests. In the beginning, Bahra focused on using his relations and technical expertise to support the revolution, by helping in the areas of relief and media. He efficaciously used his experience in communications to establish support groups, and coordinated communications between activists inside Syria and the media.
When the opposition National Coalition was expanded from 63 to 113, Bahra joined the opposition group, as an independent and started to develop a strong relationship with Ahmad al-Jarba, who would soon became the Coalition president. Soon he was elected to the Coalition’s Political Commission, the highest body in the group, and became its Secretary.
Bahra participated in the Geneva II Conference, held on Jan. 22, 2014, and was the chief negotiator within a Syrian opposition delegation in the two rounds of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time, he showed proficient negotiations skills, which attracted the attention of the international media. But he also showed that he was a tough negotiator. In an interview with the Daily Beast in March 2014, he pronounced the talks in Geneva as “dead”. He said there can be no more illusions about reaching a negotiated political solution.
Bahra also rejected statements by US officials, including former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, claiming that infighting and disorganization within the opposition is to blame for Assad potentially staying in power for years to come. He said that Ford is looking for others to blame for the failure of the international community in the implementation of its commitments to achieve its goals in removing Assad from power.
President of the Syrian National Coalition
On Jul. 8 2014, Bahra was elected the third president of the Etilaf (coalition), after Ahmad Muaz al-Khatib and Ahmed al-Jarba. He succeeds Jarba, who headed the coalition from July 2013 but failed in his efforts to unite the opposition and obtain significant Western military support. It was one of the fiercest battles within the opposition, when it really mattered on the ground. Supported by Saudi Arabia and Jarba, Bahra was elected president of the coalition with 62 votes, while his nearest rival, Mowafaq Nayrabiyeh, garnered 41 votes.
Bahra also developed a strong relationship with the US administration under Obama. He supported many of the American policies, including striking the Islamic State (ISIS). In a strong statement, he said, “The Syrian Coalition … stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat ISIS, but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime”.
But during his term, the Syrian revolution suffered, as the military situation on the ground witnesses a decline in forces. It also came as the Coalition suffered from deep disagreements that threatened to deconstruct the whole body.
The new president had a chance to heal the Coalition, especially since he was elected under a consensus between the two major blocs; that of Jarba and that of Mustafa Sabbagh, in addition to the support of other blocs. Bahra enjoys the trust and support of different parties, both inside Syria and among regional and international parties. However, when he handed over the presidency a year later, the Coalition was weaker than when he assumed office.
The Constitutional Committee
At a meeting in Riyadh, Hadi al-Bahra was named as co-president for the opposition’s side of the Constitutional Committee. A near-consensus was formed before a meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Bahra for the position. His appointment was received with approval by the Syrians who oppose the Assad regime.
However, some criticized his opening remarks at the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee. They says Bahra was indecisive on who killed and displaced the Syrians, and accused him of “equating the victim and the executioner, especially when he talked about the need to build confidence by releasing detainees on all sides.”
In his remarks, Bahra said 65 percent of Syria’s infrastructure had been destroyed, adding: “It is time for us to believe that victory in Syria is achieving justice and peace, not winning the war.
“The memory of a million victims must guide us out of this dark tunnel. The aspirations of millions of Syrians to go back to their homeland and find their loved ones must be our compass,” he added.
Bahra stressed that all Syrians must change their views about the conflict for things to start moving forward.
“We must go beyond our wounds, pains and suffering and start listening to each other to understand our fears and identify our differences in hope of solving them… Today could be the beginning of something new, this will be led by you, together we can make this come through, tomorrow the hard work begins,” he said.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Syrian Observer.