The coalition includes representatives from the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which was harshly criticized by many, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for being cut off from rebels fighting the war on the ground and for failing to forge a cohesive and more representative leadership.
The SNC itself elected a new head on Saturday — George Sabra, a Christian dissident who was repeatedly imprisoned by the Assad regime. His group holds 22 of the 60 seats in the coalition.
The opposition has been deeply divided for months despite the relentless bloodshed and repeated calls from Western and Arab supporters to create a cohesive and representative leadership that could present a single conduit for foreign aid. The agreement, reached after more than a week of meetings in the Qatari capital of Doha, could boost efforts to secure international backing — and possibly weapons — that will be needed to oust Assad.
Al-Khatib has appealed to foreign countries to supply military aid to the rebels, but unlike other opposition leader, he opposes foreign military intervention, saying Syrians should topple Assad on their own.
Born in Damascus in 1960 to a well-known Sunni family, al-Khatib took the same road as his father, Sheikh Mohammed Abu al-Faraj al-Khatib, a former preacher and prominent Islamic affairs scholar.
He studied applied geophysics and worked as an engineer for nearly six years at the state-run Al-Furat Petroleum Co. before becoming the imam of the Ummayad Mosque. In the 1990s, he was banned by Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez, for sermons that were perceived to be against the regime.
Unlike many of Syria's exiled opposition leaders who have been seen as out-of-touch, jet-setting academics, al-Khatib is an activist who often criticized the regime even before the uprising began. Once it started, he was arrested and jailed four times on charges of supporting anti-government groups, before he finally fled the country in the summer of 2011.