Burhan Ghalioun is the former chairman of the Syrian National Council, a university professor, and a Syrian opposition activist.

Based in France since the 1970s, Ghalioun was among Syrian opposition figures abroad who signed the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change in 2005. Ghalioun consistently refused to align himself with any political movement until the protests ignited in Syria in March 2011, when he joined the independent liberal bloc. He was then named chairman of the Syrian National Transitional Council, established in Ankara on August 29, 2011. At the time, Ghalioun insisted that the Syrian opposition would not engage in any dialogue with the regime, which would not yield to a peaceful transition of power. He firmly opposed foreign military intervention, sectarian strife, and the use of weapons by the opposition. Since he was elected chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in October 2011, he has insisted on the need to recognize the SNC as the representative of the Syrian people.

Following the escalation of violence in Syria at the beginning of 2012, Ghalioun called for the intervention of the international community to rescue the Syrian people, deliver humanitarian assistance, and support the Free Syrian Army. In March, he commended the appointment of Kofi Annan by the United Nations and the League of Arab States as joint special envoy for Syria, but refused all negotiations with the Assad regime so long as the bloodshed continued.

Far from garnering unanimity in opposition ranks in Syria or abroad, Ghalioun’s leadership of the Syrian National Council has sparked controversy. Some have criticized his distance from developments on the ground and questioned his ability to lead the transitional phase, and he has been deemed a merely symbolic figure in the council’s Executive Committee, which is regarded as dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Others have taken exception to his leadership style, which has been described as autocratic. These perceptions resulted in some of his opponents defecting from the SNC in February and March 2012.

Born in 1945 in Homs, Ghalioun studied philosophy and sociology in Damascus. In 1969, he traveled to France to pursue higher education, obtaining his Ph.D. in political sociology from Paris VIII in 1974 and a second doctorate in philosophy and the humanities from Paris I Sorbonne in 1982. In the late 1970s he took up political activism, calling for democratic change in the Middle East and support for the Palestinian cause. Ghalioun was a professor of political sociology and later of Arab civilization and society at the Sorbonne. He has written many publications, including A Manifesto for Democracy, Assassination of the Mind, Democratic Choice in Syria, Sectarianism and Minorities, and The Elite Society.