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A model leader for Syria?

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Take, for example, his statement to a crowd near Damascus soon after the Syrian uprising began last year: “My brothers, we lived all our lives, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, and Druze, as a one-hearted community. And with us lived our dear brothers [Christians] who follow Jesus, peace be upon him. We should adhere to this bond between us and protect it at all times.”

A lover of metaphors from his years as a Sunni preacher in Damascus’s historical Umayyad Mosque, he recently painted this image of a tolerant and inclusive Syria to come: “Any garden is so nice if full of flowers of all kinds.”

Khatib’s background and oratory may not only help heal a fragmented opposition, but also convince Syria’s Alawite religious minority that it can safely withdraw its support from an Alawite-dominated regime.

“I say to you that Alawites are closer to me than many other people I know,” he said Sunday after being elected president of the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition. “When we talk about freedom, we mean freedom for every single person in this country.”

He’s also a convenient compromise between the West’s desire for democracy in Syria and the interests of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two nondemocratic Arab states that simply want an end to a regime that serves as a terrorist and Shiite proxy for rival Iran.

The former petroleum engineer, who wears a tieless suit as an imam, argues forcefully for political plurality, including equality for women. “If you find any good in me, then help me,” he said last week. “And if you find evil, then remove me.”

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