The kidnapping of 12 (or 13) Lebanese Shiite youths in the Syrian city of Aleppo Tuesday threatens to draw Lebanon into the Syrian circle of violence, giving the events a dangerous sectarian tint. The story manages to overshadow the Egyptian elections in the main Arab newspapers Wednesday.

“Syria: bombing and explosions; ambiguity surrounding the kidnapping of 12 Lebanese in Aleppo,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, in what seems to be an overt attempt to ignore the religious identity of the kidnapped men. The photo in the article features soldiers of the opposition Free Syrian Army standing in the foreground of a burning government tank near the city of Idlib, waving their weapons in celebration.

Al-Hayat, a liberal daily published in London, covers the story from its diplomatic angle. “King Abdullah conveys his concern about the targeting of a main Lebanese denomination,” reads the headline, which quotes the entire letter of the Saudi king to the Lebanese president.

“The southern suburb [of Beirut] boils following the kidnapping of 13 Shiite youths in Aleppo; Nasrallah rushes to calm the street, warning against the kidnapping of Syrian nationals,” reads the headline of Arab-nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The daily reveals that the men were returning from a religious pilgrimage in Iran, and provides their names.

On Wednesday morning, Lebanese interior minister Adnan Mansour told the Lebanese Jadid television station that the hostages were physically well and would be released within hours, Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports.

The minister said that an “Arab element” participated in the negotiations on the release of the men. Late Tuesday night an airplane carrying the women who accompanied the kidnapped men arrived in Beirut, with the women reporting that the kidnappers identified themselves as members of the opposition Free Syrian Army. But a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army denied the allegations.

“Lebanon is on the verge of the abyss,” writes the lead editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, warning of an impending civil war.

“The kidnapping of Shiite pilgrims… cannot but serve a plan to ignite the fuse of civil war, by pushing Lebanese Shiites towards retaliatory kidnappings which will draw the country, and indeed the entire region, into a cycle of kidnappings and counter-kidnappings.”

Dangers and opportunities in Egypt’s presidential elections

The Egyptian presidential elections that begin today occupy the bulk of  Arabic-language editorial pages Wednesday.

In an editorial titled “what is not spoken about in Egypt’s presidential elections,” columnist Muhammad Shuman writes about the dangers of the post-election period.

“Behind the political mobilization and its positive characteristics, there are unspoken issues. These issues are almost masked or marginalized by the fervor of the election campaign, despite their importance… they may threaten not only the electoral celebrations but the entire democratic transition process and the Egyptian revolution.”

Shuman elaborates seven key issues which he believes were not properly addressed within Egypt. He points out the limited and unclear prerogatives of the future president; the “battle to the death” attitude adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood in the election campaign; the same attitude adopted by the military and its supporters; and the divide within the revolutionary forces in Egypt.

The crisis of faith in the electoral process, claims Shuman, is the most dangerous of the Egyptian predicaments. This crisis could lead to a military coup, which he believes is lurking in the background of the country’s political debate. Finally, Shuman decries the inequality of the financial means at the disposal of the various candidates.

Contrary to Shuman, Egyptian columnist Abd Al-Munim Said writes in A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the elections are essentially a positive event for Egyptians “not only because they will choose between a number of candidates, but because the Egyptian state will have taken a step towards regaining its health.”

Al-Hayat columnist Abdallah Iskandar notes that for the first time in Egypt’s history, the citizens do not know which presidential candidate will win tomorrow. He attributes this to the “ambiguous transitional period,” which forced the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to cooperate with all political powers in the country.

But Ashraf Abu-Jalalah, a reporter for Saudi-owned news website Elaph, writes that the excitement in Egypt is largely a men’s party. Women are still largely marginalized, despite the promise of gender equality offered by the revolution.

“The Egyptian woman seeks today to play an important role in Egyptian life, not only on the political level but on all levels. While women work hard to win their rights, presidential candidate Muhammad Mursi opposes their entry into politics, while Amr Moussa supports it,” he writes.

Sudan blames Israel for mysterious car explosion

A mysterious car explosion in the Sudanese city of Port Sudan Tuesday is being pinned on Israel, Al-Hayat reports. The car was driven by a 65-year-old businessman, Nasser Ahmad Said, who was killed in the blast.

Sudan blamed Israel for a similar explosion in April 2011 in which two men were killed. At the time, Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti said Israel executed the explosion in order to “thwart the possibility of removing Sudan from the American list of state-supporters of terrorism,” Al-Hayat reports.