WASHINGTON – Arab attitudes towards Iran have worsened sharply in recent years, according to a new six-nation poll released by the Arab American Institute Wednesday.

Since 2006, Iran’s favorability has plummeted from the 70-90 percent range among Arab countries to a current range of 10-40%, with the average favorability rating at just 27.5%. Of the six countries surveyed – Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – only Lebanon’s, at 63%, has a majority favorability rating. Saudis’ views are the worst, with only 6% viewing Iran favorably.

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“Their quest for hegemony is one that is very disconcerting in the Arab world. There’s not an interest in seeing Iran in the role that Iran seeks for itself, which is the main power in the Gulf region,” assessed AAI president James Zogby, who conducted the poll.

“It is a regime attempting to insert itself in Iraq, insert itself in other countries, and play off of regional alienation.”

He said those actions made a big difference in the changing context of the region.

In 2006, after the Lebanon war and with hostilities high between Israel and Hamas, Iran had been able to position itself as “the challenger to the US and the challenger to Israel,” according to Zogby. “It knew it could play off Arab anger and alienation by becoming the pole to draw people in the region, to draw their outrage, and to present itself as the champion.”

But amidst the recent regional upheaval, in which Iran has sought to intervene in places where Arab publics are challenging their leaders, such as Bahrain, has lead many to view Tehran as a “nuisance,” he said.

Increasingly, Arabs voice concern over Iran’s nuclear program, see it as not leading to peace and stability, and its behavior in Arab countries.

All of the publics surveyed, for instance, had only a small minority agreeing with the statement that “The Middle East would be more secure if Iran were a nuclear power.”

“One would use the term plummeting or free fall to describe the situation,” Zogby said.

However, despite the widespread Arab discomfort with Iran, Zogby assessed that there was not a clear consensus on what policy path was preferred.

The survey found a strong divide on the posture the Gulf Cooperation Council, an organization of [what] states], should take toward Iran. While majorities in Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE thought the GCC should “reject” Iran’s role in the region, only a third of Egyptians and Lebanese agreed. Though no country had a majority that thought the GCC should “welcome” Iran’s role, large pluralities in many thought “do nothing” was the best option.

“There’s a wariness. How governments in the region respond to a country viewed as a problem is going to vary. Some are going to want to confront it. Some are going to want to reach out to it, engage it.”

He suggested that “if there's any policy implication for this for the United States, it’s to leave well enough alone,” warning that one way to disrupt to the current slide in Arab opinion toward Iran would be for it to interfere.

"The way to change that dynamic would be if countries that have a lower favorability rating than Iran [in the Arab world] were to take action against Iran, giving Iran an opportunity to once again take advantage of that situation," he said.

The polls was conducted among 4,000 Arab respondents over the course of three weeks in June. The margin of error in Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia was +/- 3.5% and +/-4.5% in Lebanon, Jordan and the UAE.

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