* Former Prime Minister Hijab seen as leading contender
* Muslim Brotherhood assuming role of kingmaker
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
CAIRO, Nov 30 Syria's new opposition coalition
edged closer on Friday toward choosing a prime minister to lead
a transitional government after three days of talks in Cairo
that furthered the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, a longtime apparatchik in
President Bashar al-Assad's Baath Party before he defected in
August, is the strongest candidate for the job, delegates said.
Hijab, who is backed by Jordan and Gulf states, is likely to
be chosen before or during a gathering in mid-December of the
Friends of Syria, according to coalition insiders.
The grouping of dozens of nations had pledged mostly
non-military backing for the revolt but is worried by the
influence of Islamists in the opposition.
A popular uprising erupted in March 2011 against Assad's
autocratic rule in which 40,000 people have been killed and
hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country
Coalition member Louay Safi said the prime minister would be
the point man for the coalition with the international community
and act as the head of an alternate Cabinet ready to fill the
political and security void if Assad falls from power.
Members of the new government cannot be members of the
coalition, which numbers 60.
"I think Hijab has the best chance. He has taken big risks
to defect and has since come across as a balanced and composed
choice," said coalition member Munther Bakhos, a veteran
opposition figure forced to flee Syria during the 1970s, as
bloody repression by Assad's father, late President Hafez
al-Assad, intensified, eventually killing many thousands.
Under internal coalition rules reached late into the night,
the prime minister will be elected by a simple majority in the
coalition, in which the Brotherhood and its allies have more
than 50 percent of the seats.
Candidates must have contributed to the 20-month revolt
against Assad and not be tainted by corruption, according to
internal rules reached at 2 a.m. (midnight GMT).
NEW EXECUTIVE BODY
The coalition earlier on Friday created an executive body,
less than a month after the group came into being with Western
and Arab support.
The 11-member "political assembly" will be headed by
moderate preacher Moaz al-Khatib, the current president of the
They will include his two vice presidents and the
coalition's secretary general, Qatari-backed businessman Mustafa
Sabbagh, who has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in
the new structure.
But the delegates failed to agree on the names of the 11
members after a lengthy election procedure and postponed
deciding on the issue, delegates said.
Hardball politics have overshadowed the three-day
proceedings in Cairo, with the Brotherhood becoming an
overwhelmingly powerful kingmaker.
Since the coalition was set up in Qatar earlier this month,
the Brotherhood has swiftly assembled a de facto majority bloc,
according to insiders keeping track of changes in the membership
of the coalition.
The revolt against four decades of rule by Assad and his
late father revived the Brotherhood's fortunes after decades of
repression that killed many thousands of its members, and opened
more sources of financing for the organisation from exiled
France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf Arab states have already
recognised the coalition as the legitimate representative of the
Syrian people. The United States has been more cautious.
Hijab is a Sunni Muslim from the desert oil-producing
province of Deir al-Zor in the east of Syria, on the border with
Iraq's Sunni heartland.
Alliances in Deir al-Zor between Sunni Muslim tribes and the
ruling elite from Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of
Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syria since the 1960s,
collapsed after Assad's forces shot scores of demonstrators in
the province at the beginning of the revolt.