A stunning shift of Iran's image in the Arab world
A poll shows Iran's popularity in dramatic decline in several Middle Eastern countries, possibly an indication of the domestically driven political change sweeping across the region.
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Asked if Iran plays a positive or negative role in the region, large majorities in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates said "positive" five years ago. In the latest poll, those numbers were almost exactly reversed. In Morocco, Iran dropped from an 82 percent "positive" rating in 2006, to an 85 percent "negative" rating today. In Egypt, the shift was from 89 percent positive to 63 percent negative. In Saudi Arabia, it went from 85 percent positive to 80 percent negative, and in the UAE it went from 68 percent positive to 70 percent negative.Skip to next paragraph
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Only in Lebanon itself, which has a large Shiite population, did Iran retain a positive rating, down from 71 percent positive last time around to 63 percent now.
I don't think the declining US military role in Iraq and decline in support for Iran are disconnected. With the near disappearance of the US military fighting in Iraq from regional front pages, attention has refocused on Iran's treatment of its own people. Supporters of the uprising that threw Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt can look across at Iran's own Green Movement, for the moment largely squashed by repressive government measures, and draw a line between Mr. Mubarak and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What does this mean in practical terms? I'm not really sure. Iranian political influence in its neighbor Iraq is a current fact of life. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki received support from Iran while he was fighting Saddam Hussein from exile and is close to Tehran, as are other Shiite and Kurdish political figures in Iraq. Polling of attitudes in countries like Egypt aren't going to change Iran's views of what's in its own best interests, and creating an alliance with Iraq – with which it fought a mutually ruinous war in the 1980s, has got to be near the top of the list.
When I was living in Egypt and Baghdad, I remember much worry about the growing popularity of Iran in diplomatic circles. It's worth noting that now Arab publics are demanding and receiving a stronger voice inside their own countries, and that the tide of opinion in Iran's favor appears to have completely reversed.