Three months after the resignation of Syrian Prime Minister Ghassan Hito, the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition selected Dr. Ahmad Tomeh on Saturday, after he received 75 votes out of the Coalition’s 97 members. Very little had been known about the man prior to his election. Tomeh has the support of Ahmad Jarba, the coalition’s president backed by Saudi Arabia, and became prime minister after a deal involving Qatar’s point man in the opposition.
Dr. Ahmad Tomeh (48) was born in the city of Deir ez-Zor, where he has lived most of his life, with the exception of five years spent in Saudi Arabia, where his father worked as a teacher between 1974 and 1975.
Tomeh, who is a dentist, first engaged in political work in 1992 with a group of friends and researchers in Deir ez-Zor, where they founded two groups. One of them was intellectually interested in “the reconsideration of the Islamic intellectual inheritance and the correction of many of the misconceptions that caused the underdevelopment of our civilization,” while the other group adopted an approach of non-violence and peaceful resistance and rejected secret organizations in politics.
In 1997 Tomeh began to address people through his Friday sermon. But the experience did not last more than two years, because the regime removed him from the post because of his ideas and his refusal, on one occasion, to observe a minute of silence for the soul of Basil al-Assad. In 2001, Tomeh joined the "The Revival of Civil Society," committees which called for "increasing the democratic margin in Syria, the release of prisoners of conscience, the country's transition from dictatorship to democracy, and protection of human rights." He also participated in Syrian political groups formed after the oath of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the most important of which was the Atassi Forum in Damascus.
Tomeh participated in the establishment of the "Damascus Declaration" in 2005, which called for "safe, gradual and peaceful change in Syria."
He worked closely with liberals and Islamists alike, including former MP Riad Seif and Riad al-Turk, the main political figure in the Damascus Declaration, who at 82 still operates underground in Syria despite spending 25 years as a political prisoner.
He was elected on January 12, 2007 as Secretary-general of the alliance, but was unable to serve because one week after his election, he was arrested along with 11 of his colleagues. They were all brought to trial and sentenced to two and a half years and deprived of their civil rights.
In June of 2010, Tomeh was released and soon thereafter returned to political activity, most notably in 2011 with the beginning of the Syrian revolution. But Tomeh was arrested again in July 2011 and held for over a month. Afterwards, he participated in relief work in Deir ez-Zour, and then became a member of the Syrian National Council when it was established. Tomeh served under a pseudonym because of the danger posed by membership while residing inside Syrian territory. However, his inability to attend meetings and participate effectively led Tomeh to resign from his membership in the Syrian National Council.
Late in 2012, Tomeh was arrested briefly once again. After the announcement of the formation of local councils and their conference in Istanbul at the end of January of this year, Tomeh became an adviser to the Executive Office of the local council of Deir ez-Zour. In that capacity, Tomeh worked with the head of the local council to manage the local councils of the province. Tomeh then became president of the National Peace Council in the province of Deir ez-Zour.
Tomeh: Syria for all Syrians
After two days of talks and meetings, the Syrian Coalition reached an agreement on the election of Dr. Ahmad Tomeh to form a government of 13 ministers. Tomeh said to the audience after his election that he was "honored to assume this great responsibility imposed by the sacrifices made by the Syrians," and he stressed that, "Syria will be for all Syrians, and will not be a place for killers and criminals.”
The Syrian Coalition hopes that Tomeh will enhance the credibility of the Syrian opposition. The new head of government is expected to form an interim government that manages the areas of Syria controlled by opposition fighters, and to succeed in the task which former President Ghassan Hito failed to accomplish.
In an interview with Reuters, Tomeh pledged to curb the influence of al-Qaeda militants he said exploited the opposition’s inability to fill a vacuum left by the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s authority in much of the country.
He also told Reuters that "the opposition had to confront al-Qaeda ideologically by emphasizing that democracy did not contradict Islam and deny the group popularity by restoring public services in rebel-held areas."
“On top of the destruction and killing and displacement the regime has brought, people are now suffering from militants’ behavior,” Tomeh said. “The people pursued a basic quest for freedom [rather than] deeper despotism.”
Tomeh said the opposition faced the “ideological challenge” of convincing many who joined al-Qaeda to leave the group.
“If they refuse, then we will look for all ways to guarantee the security of the people and their livelihood and a dignified living,” Tomeh said.
Tomeh will start talks in the next few days to name his ministers, a process expected to take weeks. The government then plans to move into northern Syria, despite the risk of air strikes and shelling by Assad's forces.
Other sources: al-Hayat; Reuters; the National coalition website.