Who is George Sabra?

George Sabra (جورج صبرا) is current president of the Syrian National Council and current acting president of the Syrian National Coalition.

There is a profile of him at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

His English Wikipedia page is somewhat brief, indicating only his birthplace, education, and political party memberships.  The page about him in Arabic Wikipedia does not add additional information, other than to refer to a 2-month jail stint from July 20 to September 19, 2011.

The Qatari newspaper al-Watan (to be distinguished from the newspaper of that name in every other Arabic-speaking country) published a series of articles last November about George Sabra by Ahmad Mansur, shortly after he was elected president of the Syrian National Council.  The first of these articles (dated November 13, 2012) I have translated below (from the Arabic here).  I hope to add translations of the others as I have time.

Stories of George Sabra (1)

by Ahmad Mansur

When the Syrian National Council, during its meeting in Doha on last Friday evening, November 9, selected George Sabra as its president, I remembered sitting for a long time with George Sabra in the month of June 2012 on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, where the discussion went beyond some of the events that were going on in Syria to various topics, which revealed the personality of George Sabra as humorous and a connoisseur of life and open to humanity.  Despite my many visits to Istanbul, I nevertheless found that he was involved with everything in it and had come to relish the history of the city, its mosques, its churches, its palaces, and its buildings with the mentality of an artist and the eye of a poet.  He said to me, “I can call this city the ‘City of Color’ because the bright colors of the houses of Istanbul, especially the new houses built on the heights and elevated areas, give a distinctive character to this deeply historical city.”

George Sabra was born in the city of Qatana in Rif Dimashq in 1947.  He graduated from the College of Arts at the University of Damascus in 1971.  He joined the Syrian Communist Party in 1970 and became one of its leaders.  He was subjected to arrest and security prosecution a number of times between 1980 and 1984, at which point he disappeared inside the country for the space of three years.  He was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Syrian Communist Party in 1985, and in 1987 he was arrested and sentenced before the Supreme State Security Court in Damascus to eight years in prison, the end of them in the Saydnaya Military Prison.  He was released in 1995.  He represented the Communist Party in 2000 in the National Democratic Rally, then in the Damascus Declaration for Change in 2005.

He joined the Syrian revolution at its inception and acquired the role of a major player, so Syrian authorities arrested him on April 10, 2011, a few weeks after the outbreak of the revolution, and then released him after a month.  His arrest was repeated another time on July 20, 2011, when he spent two months in detention, and after international pressure the regime released him on September 19, 2011.  He made plans to flee, and he escaped as a refugee from Syria to Jordan on December 20, 2011, under cover of darkness, which was the first time he had left Syria since 1979.  He joined the Syrian National Council and became a spokesman for it.  Then last Friday he was elected its president.

When I asked him about the story of his escape, he said, “At that time smuggling operations were conducted by means of bribery, and the ‘sale of the road’ was by forces belonging to the regime.  ‘The sale of the road’ was understood to mean that they would leave the road to the rebels for a designated period in exchange for a designated sum, so that the rebels could use it for anything.  I kept moving with my son from place to place until we were 500 m away from the border, and here we were left to our fate, where snipers were watching the border and shooting at everyone that moves, whether man or woman or even a child.  And because whole families did not find an alternative to crossing in this manner, many have been martyred while trying to escape from this bloody regime ruling in Syria.  The snipers had killed a woman who tried to cross the border an hour before us.  But there were only two choices before us; there was no third option.  Either we would cross or we would die as martyrs.  Crossing the border at night consists of several stages.  The first stage was barbed wire, after it a deep trench, then barbed wire again, and after it a raised earthen embankment.  And the difficulty of the earthen embankment when you try to cross it, and it’s the final stage, is that you are exposed and an easy target for the snipers belonging to the bloody regime ruling in Syria.  And the width of this interval was about five hundred meters.  My son was running in front of me and I was behind him clutching his clothes.  We ran through the first stage, two hundred meters, passed the barbed wire, then leaped into the ditch.  My heart almost comes out of my chest from the force of the heartbeats and the fear.  I felt around for him and I felt around for myself, and I said to him, ‘Are we still alive, my son?’  He said, ‘Yes.’  We ran across the second stage, after which we passed the ditch and the barbed wire.  And every time I was feeling around for myself and feeling around for my child, and I would ask him, ‘Are we still alive?’  Then came the most dangerous stage, the crossing of the raised earthen embankment, on which hundreds have been martyred while trying to cross to freedom…” (Complete tomorrow.)

Sorry for the cliff-hanger.  It’s in the original.  I probably will not get the next installment translated by tomorrow, but I thought I’d post this for people who want to know a bit more about George Sabra.

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