Posted by on March 06, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

Yesterday, AAI President Jim Zogby released the results of a 20-nation Zogby poll on Arab and Muslim opinions and attitudes toward Iran at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. The poll release was accompanied by the launch of Zogby’s newest book, Looking at Iran: the Rise and Fall of Iran in Public Opinion which compares 2012 Zogby Poll data on attitudes toward Iran with data Zogby Research has compiled from its past decade of polling in the region.

The discussion at the Wilson Center was part of NPR’s National Conversation, which explores the most pressing issues facing the US and the world. Joining Zogby to comment on the results of his survey was an impressive panel of established Middle East experts: Marc Lynch, Hisham Melhem, Barbara Slavin, and Haleh Esfandiari.

Looking at Iran reveals the changing attitudes toward Iran in 17 Arab countries as well as Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. It focused on three main areas: Iran’s involvement in Syria, its nuclear program, and the growing regional sectarian divide.

In terms of general attitudes, the latest results show an increasing antipathy toward the Islamic Republic and an overall unfavorable opinion, with the exceptions of Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Kuwait, and Iraq. Zogby attributes these countries’ support for Iran to their perception of Iran through a different lens. Countries like Algeria, Lebanon, and Iraq judged Iran on its past behavior, like its support for Lebanon in 2006, whereas other countries based their attitudes on more recent actions, such as Iranian policies on Syria. “Syria is…the nail in the coffin of Iran’s favorable rating across the region,” said Zogby.

On the topic of an Iranian nuclear program, only Iraq and Lebanon disagreed that Gulf States are right to be concerned with Iran’s nuclear ambition. However, only in Lebanon did the majority of respondents say they believed Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. “Iran’s nuclear program: again, only in Lebanon do you get a majority seeing it for peaceful purposes.  In every other country, it’s viewed as a nuclear program seeking weapons.” Most countries now also support placing economic sanctions on Iran, except Morocco.

Majorities in every country, except Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq, also agree that Iran is contributing to a greater sectarian divide in the region. Zogby explained that the growing sectarian divide was a major factor in attitudes toward Iran. “What has caused a shift is there was no sectarian divide in 2006, and now the sectarian divide has become quite real... and everything is seen, unfortunately, through the sectarian prism.”

While public opinion towards Iran has grown increasingly unfavorable, US popularity in the region has seemed to experience the opposite. US favorable ratings have not increased significantly, but they have improved since 2011, returning to the 2009 level. Follow-up questions conducted during the poll indicated that this was a result of President Obama’s policy of “leading from behind…The non-belligerent, non-bellicose, working together with allies in Libya, working together with groups in the broader region to try to solve problems, and not dictating terms, has actually played quite well for the United States and has created a different sense.”

The decline in favorable attitudes towards Iran in the Middle East is a reflection of its recent policies and actions, and the deteriorating relationship with its neighbors. "When American policy makers discuss Iran, the focus is on Israel, as if that were the only issue to consider. In reality, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not only a concern for Americans and Israelis. It is also a growing concern for people across the Arab and Muslim Worlds," added Zogby.

These findings are outlined in Jim’s new e-book, Looking at Iran and they shed light on important inter-Arab dynamics.

Watch the Wilson Center event:


More Resources:

Download the event transcript


Foreign Policy: Tehran Tanking

AL Monitor: Poll: Sectarianism, Syria Drive Negative Image of Iran

The Dish: America, The Arab World, And Iran

Newsmax: Zogby: Iran Acts Like a Bratty Kid

Today’s Zamman: Negative attitudes toward Iran increasing among Turks, survey shows

Times of Israel: Most Mideast countries don’t want a nuclear Iran, poll finds

USIP:  Poll: Iran Unpopular in Arab and Muslim Eyes

Inter Press Service: Poll Finds Mounting Hostility Among Arabs towards Iran

The POMED Wired: POMED Notes: “The Rise and Fall of Iran in Arab and Muslim Eyes: A New Poll”

Voice of America: The Decline of Iran in Muslim Eyes

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