Terror in Africa and Asia
Arabic media review

Terror in Africa and Asia

Arab columnists wonder whether Iran's President Hasan Rouhani can deliver real change to the Middle East

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A Pakistani Christian man mourns over the death of his relative at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, September 22, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Sajjad)
A Pakistani Christian man mourns over the death of his relative at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, September 22, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Sajjad)

Islamist terror attacks in Kenya and Pakistan lead off the news in Arab media on Monday, highlighting the reported participation of Israeli anti-terror experts on the ground.

“Nairobi tries to end the mall challenge,” reads the headline in the London-based daily Al-Hayat, featuring a photo of two injured civilians laying on the ground and receiving treatment outside a Nairobi shopping mall that has been the site of an ongoing, deadly standoff between Islamist attackers and security forces.

The daily reports Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pledge to continue fighting Al-Shabab terrorists in neighboring Somalia (to which the attackers in Nairobi belong), adding that “Tel Aviv has entered the crisis, with conflicting reports of Israeli participation, either military or advisory, in a bid to remove the gunmen from the mall, which contains four Israeli-owned businesses.”

“Battles continue in Nairobi between the military and the extremists, and the government utilizes Israelis to end the hostage standoff,” reads the headline in the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, featuring a photo of an injured woman being carried on a stretcher after a terror attack in Pakistan.

In its second front page article, the daily reports that two suicide bombers killed 78 Christians outside a church in Pakistan, weakening efforts by President Nawaz Sharif to negotiate a ceasefire with Taliban elements in the country.

“Peshawar: 81 dead, mostly women and children, in an attack on a church,” reads the lead headline of Al-Hayat, calling the terror attack “the largest attack against the Christian minority.”

“The attack against the church in Peshawar is considered an unprecedented escalation in the region since the strikes that accompanied the elections campaign for the Pakistani parliament last May,” reads the article.

Meanwhile, Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports on a little-covered suicide attack in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad Sunday that killed at least 16 and injured 35. The total number of fatalities in terror attacks in Iraq has reached 600 since the start of September, Al-Jazeera reports, and 4,400 since the beginning of the year.

Rouhani still on the Arab mind

Analysis of Iran’s new president continues to dominate the editorial pages of Arab media on Monday, with new voices emerging expressing optimism toward Hasan Rouhani.

“The Iranian president weaves the rug of his term from yarn given to him by the supreme guide,” writes Al-Hayat editor-in-chief Ghassan Cherbel, using a very Persian metaphor. “The borders of his authorities are very clear: The president is the senior elected clerk during the term of the supreme leader.”

Cherbel elaborates on a number of charismatic and talented Iranian presidents who could do little to influence the big issues of the nuclear project or the relationship with the “Great Satan” — the US.

“Many countries in the world and it the region will ask about Rouhani’s speech and about the considerations of the supreme leader… There is no doubt that Rouhani is nice and appealing and communicative, but the question remains: Has the supreme leader changed? If he did not, the world will say, “Rouhani passed by here, and he was as kind and weak as Mohammed Khatami.”

But A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Ataollah Mohajerani gives much more credit to Rouhani’s ability to effect change in the region, a surprising opinion in the deeply Irano-skeptic daily.

“There are indications recently that we will witness a new face for Iran, not only because the man who denied the Holocaust is gone, but also because tangible changes are taking place in Iran. In other words, it seems like Ayatollah Khaminei has taken an important decision to change the form of regime and decision-making in Iran,” writes Mohajerani.

“It has become increasingly clear that Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has a remarkable ability to take on this role in the best way possible … I believe that all indicators show that we are on the verge of the reconstruction of relations between Iran and the United States. I think that all the extremists in Iran, Israel and the US will oppose the strengthening of ties between the two countries.”

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