BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The main Syrian exile opposition group elected a new president on Saturday, the body's latest bid to end months of squabbling and show that it can unite, organize and arm the fighters battling Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.
The group's new president, Ahmad Jarba, is a tribal leader from northeastern Syria and a former political prisoner who was jailed for his role in the Damascus Declaration, a reform movement that challenged the government in 2005.
Members of the exile group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also known as the Syrian National Coalition, portrayed Mr. Jarba as a consensus builder able to communicate with the group's many rival factions. The coalition had been without a president since the previous one, Moaz al-Khatib, resigned in April after many members criticized him for floating the possibility of talks with members of Mr. Assad's government.
But questions remained about whether Mr. Jarba, elected with a narrow majority amid new challenges for the coalition, could help unify the group. Mr. Jarba, seen as close to the government of Saudi Arabia, defeated Mustafa Sabbagh, a businessman viewed as an ally of Qatar, in a runoff election in Istanbul.
Hanging over the election was the ouster last week of Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition has suffered from criticism that it is dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organized exile group.
The choice of a president close to Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to the Brotherhood, was seen as a counterweight to its influence. Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, a Brotherhood member, was elected one of three vice presidents.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which supports the Brotherhood, are two of the main financiers of the Syrian uprising and have wrestled lately for influence over the movement.
Many rebels fighters and activists in Syria dismiss the exile body as out of touch, dominated by foreign agendas and unable to deliver the arms and direction they need. On social media, many sarcastically portrayed the election as a contest between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"Frankly speaking, we no longer pay much attention to such elections," said Mazen, an activist in Damascus, the Syrian capital, who gave only a first name because he was concerned for his safety. "This coalition is like a horse cart -- wherever you take it, it goes. Tell me one thing they gave to the people so far. They keep fighting over positions."
The coalition has tried to streamline rebel battalions under its leadership and to help plan and deliver humanitarian aid. But it has been hamstrung by the lack of a reliable arms supply and its own infighting.
Still, Mr. Jarba has credentials inside Syria that could help increase the group's credibility. He is a sheik from the large Shummari tribe; hails from Hasaka, a marginalized area of northern Syria; and a cousin, according to the pan-Arab television channel Al Arabiya, is a rebel commander in control of an oil-rich area bordering Iraq. Mr. Jarba has a degree in political science.
Musab, an activist from Hasaka who gave only a first name, said he had "never dreamt" that someone from there would reach a high position, and hoped Mr. Jarba would turn the coalition's attention to the area's bread-and-butter problems.
He ticked off a list of challenges for Mr. Jarba to address: local military councils that need support, conflicts in the area between extremist groups like the Nusra Front and civil society groups, struggles between Kurdish groups and Sunni ones, and infighting between pro-government and antigovernment Kurds.
In March, the group elected a prime minister for an interim Syrian government, Ghassan Hitto.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.