Arabic media review

Extremist ideology, ‘spreading like bacteria’

As the ‘hostage nightmare’ ends in Algeria, an Arab daily reports an influx of pro-Assad Shiite fighters in Syria

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

In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 photo, a sniper takes position on a roof during combat in the neighborhood of Saif Al-Dawlah in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP/Andoni Lubaki)
In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 photo, a sniper takes position on a roof during combat in the neighborhood of Saif Al-Dawlah in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP/Andoni Lubaki)

The botched attempt to rescue Western hostages held in an Algerian natural gas installation leads Arab news on Sunday, along with reports on Shia fighters in Syria.

“The ‘hostage nightmare’ ends with their ‘execution’ and the killing of the kidnappers,” reads the headline of the London-based daily Al-Hayat. The paper features a photo of Algerian policemen escorting a released Norwegian hostage.

The report says that seven hostages and 11 kidnappers were killed when the Algerian army waged a final attack on the gas installation at Ein Amnas in southeast Algeria. According to a Tuareg tribesman who was involved in negotiations with the al-Qaeda gunmen, the kidnappers pledged “an allegiance of death” to their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily based in London, reports on its front page that the “war in Mali” has caused a rift inside Washington.

“The war on terror in Mali, and its repercussions on the bloody hostage situation that ended in the Algerian desert yesterday, has revealed a conflict between analysts in the Pentagon, who favor intervention in Africa similar to [US intervention] in Afghanistan, and the White House, which is more wary of involvement.”

The Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera highlights the final body count following the four-day siege: 32 “terrorists” and 23 hostages. The outlet describes the final faceoff on Saturday as “bloody.”

In an op-ed titled “Political hypocrisy,” Al-Hayat writer Abdullah Iskandar accuses “political Islam” of ignoring the destructive actions of jihadists in North Africa.

“No one in the political Islam camp batted an eyelid in the face of this harassment and destruction. None of these Islamists has expressed any concern about what is happening in Mali; none of them identified with those expelled by the extremists from their homes and work in northern Mali… none of them proposed themselves as intermediaries between the Mali government and the extremist groups,” writes Iskandar.

“It seems as though political Islam has discovered the crisis in Mali [only] at the start of the French military operation in that country.”

Apropos Mali, Abdul Rahman Rashed, writing for A-Sharq Al-Awsat, claims that the problems in the Middle East lie primarily with the spread of extremist ideology.

“Our problem with those enthusiastic to fight the extremists, like the French today and the Americans in Afghanistan yesterday and perhaps in Syria next, is that they do not understand the nature of the problem.

“The extremists are the simplest part of the equation; the more difficult, and more important one, is fighting extremist ideology,” writes Rashed. “If the West, and the concerned Arabs… invested their money and efforts in fighting extremist ideology, the crisis could be over. Instead, they invested billions of dollars in tens of thousands of fighters, advanced weaponry and drones. It succeeded in eradicating many extremist leaders in al-Qaeda, but the ideology remains, spreading like bacteria.”

The West, concludes Rashed, should take heed of its mistakes in North Africa in dealing with the crisis in Syria.

“[The West] is letting Syria fall prey to the extremists, who manipulate people’s feelings claiming they are the people’s only saviors from Assad’s violence,” ends Rashid. “They are effectively the most active savior, because the scene was left open for them.”

Shia fighters in Syria

A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads its front-page news coverage with a report of Shia fighters in the vicinity of Damascus.

According to “media and intelligence reports,” the gunmen have entered Syria from Iraq and Lebanon and are succeeding in repelling the anti-Assad opposition.

The daily features a photo of a veiled Syrian women, decked out in military garb and carrying a sniper rifle, walking through a destroyed street in Aleppo.

According to the report, Hezbollah has established a major presence in Syria, comprising a significant force within the “Abul Fadhl Abbas Battalion.”

According to a spokesman for the battalion, its role is limited to protecting Shiite holy sites frequented by Shiite pilgrims, but other reports indicate that the battalion’s role “surpasses mere defense.”

Most Popular
read more: