Iran loses clout in Arab world
In the wake of its disputed election, Iran faces diminished support from some friends and hardening opposition among foes.
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For a regime that had always trumpeted its quasi-democratic credentials, Iran's postelection tactics caught many outside the country by surprise.Skip to next paragraph
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"Iran's supporters in the region were wagering before and during the elections that the Islamic state would teach the world a lesson in democracy and present a model of Islamist rule," wrote the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper. "They have lost their wager, and certainly Islamists in Arab countries who aspire to participate in the political game and come to power have lost the most."
Another Al-Hayat story was equally blunt: "The truth of the matter is that revolutionary movements that establish a new legitimacy from illegitimacy carry early on fertile seeds for its demise."
Egypt's state-run Al-Ahram newspaper decried the "democratic outrage" and said the Iranian regime should "stop the wave of violence and blood and listen to the viewpoints of the Iranian opposition that rejects the [election] results."
Many Arabs, to be sure, never bought into the Iranian mystique, and their indifference or even hostility toward the regime in Tehran has only solidified since Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed landslide victory.
"I have always been against him," says Omar Beydoun, dicing a joint of lamb for grilling in his shop in Beirut's Sunni neighborhood of Qasqas. "Ahmadinejad is causing trouble for the whole region, here in Lebanon with Hezbollah, meddling with the Palestinians, and trying to spread Shiism among Arabs. What do I care about internal fighting in Iran? If it's not Ahmadinejad, it will be someone just as bad."
Mr. Beydoun is hardly alone in a region where sporadic support for Iran among the masses was rarely matched by Arab governments, which have long been wary of Iranian motives and of spreading Shiite influence. True, for several years Iran's strategic star was definitely rising, even as America's appeared to be falling. This was especially true after Hezbollah declared victory over US-supported Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, and the insurgency in Iraq threatened the American occupation, inflicting a rising toll in US lives in 2006 and 2007.
At the time, Iranian officials crowed that the United States had been rendered harmless and near "death." They said Western democracy had "failed." Ahmadinejad himself, in an Egyptian poll, was found to be the second most popular politician in the region, after Mr. Nasrallah.
Yet the fascination with Iran didn't always stem from anything noble going on in Tehran and, in many quarters, was short-lived.
"I think what happened in 2006 [with the pro-Ahmadinejad polling], the people are so anti-Israel that they would even consider being pro-Iranian very briefly because of the fate of the Palestinians, or in this case the fate of the Lebanese," says Joost Hiltermann, the deputy Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group in Washington. "I think that there is no genuine support for Iran in the Arab street."
How Iran is viewed in the region has always been important to the Islamic regime. Thirty years ago, it decreed "export" of the revolution a priority. Islamic causes such as Palestinian statehood and fighting Israel – as well as fighting "imperialist Great Satan" America and the Soviet Union – would be embraced and supported.