Sayda takes over from Paris-based academic Ghalioun, the exiled bloc’s first leader who stepped down last month in the face of mounting splits that were undermining the group’s credibility.
Activists accused Dr. Burhan Ghalioun, the former president, of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground in Syria, and of giving the Muslim Brotherhood too big a role.
Sayda, who has lived in exile in Sweden for two decades, is seen as a consensus candidate capable of reconciling the rival factions within the SNC and of broadening its appeal among Syria’s myriad of ethnic and confessional groups.
Born in 1956 in Amuda, a mostly Kurdish city in northeastern Syria, Sayda is an expert in ancient civilisations and author of a number of books on Syria’s Kurdish minority but is Arabic educated. He does not belong to any political party and his name is not familiar to many Syrians but SNC officials say he is a “conciliatory” figure, “honest” and “independent”.
The SNC has been criticised for not representing the full diversity of Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and other ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
Syria’s Kurds represent around nine percent of Syria’s 23 million population, most of them live in the north of the country and in Damascus. They complain of persistent discrimination, and demand recognition for their Kurdish culture and language, and that they be treated as full-fledged citizens.