Gulf Between Arab Leaders and their Publics on Iranian Nukes

As a sidebar to a piece Jim Lobe and I have up at IPS, we discussed a poll released in August by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution and the Zogby International polling firm.

The media coverage of hostile remarks about Iran from some Gulf Arab leaders, among others, largely glazed over the autocratic character of the figures making the comments. But the gaps in attitudes between the dictatorial leadership of many of these Arab countries and their populations — citizens or subjects, however you want to call them — is vast and well-known.

Telhami and Zobgy’s Arab Public Opinion survey is a highly regarded poll, known for reflecting the views of the people in these countries who go unmentioned in diplomatic cables such as those released by WikiLeaks.

As of last August, here’s how those surveyed felt about Iranian nuclear weapons (hint: it’s nothing like their leaders):

Gulf Between Arab Leaders and Public

The U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks about Arab regimes’ hostility toward Iran — and the innumerable commentators on the subject – all overlook the gulf between autocratic Arab leaders and their citizens or subjects, who tend to have a different view of Iran and its nuclear programme.

However, a Brookings Institution and Zogby International 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll, released in August, found that more than three- quarters of respondents in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Lebanon and Egypt thought Iran had the right to pursue its nuclear programme despite most feeling that it is aimed at developing weapons.

While a majority of respondents (55 percent) said they believe Tehran’s nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons – a charge denied by Iran – nearly four out of five respondents (77 percent) said the country has the right to pursue the programme – a whopping increase of 24 percent since last year.

Support for the programme was strongest by far in Egypt and Morocco and weakest in the UAE, where a strong majority said Iran should be pressured to halt it.

Conversely, only 20 percent of respondents said they favoured applying international pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear programme. That was down from the 40 percent who took that position one year ago.

“Overall, there is very little support here for the notion that Arabs are secretly yearning for the U.S. to attack Iran,” wrote Marc Lynch, a Mideast expert at George Washington University, whose blog on has a wide readership among elite sectors here. “Really little.”

Moreover, a solid majority (57 percent) of respondents agreed that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it would lead to a “more positive” outcome in the Middle East region. That was nearly twice the percentage of one year ago (29 percent). By contrast, only 21 percent said that it would lead to a “more negative outcome”, compared to a plurality of 46 percent who took that position in 2009.

(Much of this sidebar is drawn from Lobe’s August article on the poll. The link for Marc Lynch’s FP piece was added to this post.)

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.


One Comment

  1. Good point to make, but we all know there is a great gap fixed between the Arab regimes and the Arab street.

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