Who really killed Al Bouti?

A columnist suspects the Syrian regime was responsible. Other topics in our Arabic-language round-up today: Arab universities, and Lebanon's new crisis.

Fingers pointed at Al Assad in the assassination of a prominent pro-regime cleric in Syria

Since Hafez Al Assad came to power through a military coup, one political crime after another has taken place in Syria and Lebanon, but no one was ever punished for those crimes, columnist Hussein Shabakshi wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

In almost every case, the crime has been brushed aside with a succinct statement from some Syrian official that no further questions could be asked.

Now a new chapter in the story of mysterious assassinations is being written in Syria, with the suicide attack on Al Iman Mosque in Damascus last Thursday that killed one of the most prominent Islamic clerics of our time, Sheikh Mohammed Saeed Ramadan Al Bouti, along with dozens of worshippers.

"To better understand the repercussions of this operation, one has to look at it from the perspective of the bloodthirsty regime that has 'divide and rule' as its modus operandi. That includes creating sedition, arousing suspicions and stoking fears among various sects and even among family members," he said.

Only a few days before the mosque attack, the Syrian opposition elected Ghassan Hitto to head the transitional government. It was a symbolic yet serious step that confirmed to the world that the opposition will assume a more significant role.

On the ground, it will have the task of managing the regions that the Free Syrian Army has succeeded in liberating from the regime's grip.

Both Mr Hitto and Sheikh Al Bouti have Kurdish origins. The terrorist attack was perpetrated on Nowruz, one of the most significant Kurdish holidays.

"All this can't possibly be a coincidence," noted the writer. "Add to that, the operation was executed in the mosque that is adjacent to the Russian embassy in Damascus and an intelligence security building surrounded by barriers and armed troops. How was a terrorist with explosives strapped to his body able to pass through such a tight security cordon?" the writer asked.

The mosque itself has been the scene of previous attacks that remained ambiguous. As for the cleric, he lived in an easily-accessible area where opposition members could have reached him if they had wanted to eliminate him.

"Sheikh Al Bouti had become an expired card for the regime. It had no interest in the old man who had already said everything that could be said in support of the regime and against the revolution," the writer said.

The Assad regime must have figured out that discarding him in a tragic incident would stir up the minorities' apprehensions once again and incite people's emotions.

But the people have woken up and they no longer fall for the regime's antics and tales.

Arab universities need to be modernised

The Times Higher Education magazine has recently announced the 2013 world university rankings, with the US and UK dominating the top 100 list. There is no Arab representation.

This once again raises the question of why Arab institutions fail to find places on world lists despite large budgets allocated by rich Arab states to their education ministries, observed Zainab Hanafi in an article in the UAE-based Al Ittihad newspaper.

This failure, according to the writer, is due to the fact that the Arab education system and Arab students are poles apart. Rote learning begins from the moment a student steps into a classroom until university studies.

The education system also lacks modern scientific laboratory equipment, educational institutions being indifferent to talented students, and a lack of independence as some governments interfere with curricula.

Some time ago, a Saudi student invented a device for improving a certain type of warplane; Moscow offered to support his project through a scholarship. Germany also made him a good offer.

Many Arab scientists who left their homeland early have established themselves. The environment in the West encourages talents, while Arab states nip them in the bud, she wrote.

Arab educational institutions must revisit their methods and accord due importance to science and creativity, she concluded.

Mikati's resignation jeopardises Lebanon

In a dramatic turn of events, Lebanon's premier, Najib Mikati, has announced his government's resignation following a worsening political crisis fanned by regional interference, noted the Dubai-based Al Bayan newspaper in an editorial yesterday.

Lebanon has long been held hostage to the outside world, costing the country a lot of blood and resources. When the 1989 Taif Accord was reached, many people thought Lebanon would no longer be so vulnerable to the outside world.

Yet, since the assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, certain regional powers seem to have been pushing Lebanon into conflicts with which the Lebanese people have nothing to do, the newspaper said.

Lebanon is facing challenges on many fronts: increasing refugee flows from Syria, economic stagnation, escalating political polarisation with sectarian dimensions, the government's failure to implement the announced "policy of disassociation" [from neighbouring and regional conflicts], and failure to reach an agreement on parliamentary elections that are supposed to take place in three months.

Now all political parties need to reconsider the options they have imposed on the Lebanese people against their will, the paper said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk