By Ali Hussein Bakeer
- The writer is a foreign affairs expert and senior political advisor.
ANKARA (AA) - In the final statement of the Islamic Cooperation Summit held in Istanbul last April, the leaders of more than 50 Islamic countries condemned Iran’s interventions in the internal affairs of the countries in the region particularly those of Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia. The statement denounced Tehran’s continued support for terrorism and called on Iran to refrain from threatening or using force, and to renounce its sectarian agenda. Moreover, the terrorist acts of Hezbollah militias in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen were also condemned.
The message was very clear: The overwhelming majority of the Islamic world is of the opinion that Iran is not at peace with itself, nor with its surroundings, and it has been undermining regional peace and stability, fueling sectarian strife and threatening the security of the neighboring countries through armed militias. However, Tehran does not seem to have grasped the meaning of the message yet as it didn’t alter its attitudes and is not willing to do so anytime soon as it seems.
Until 2006, the perception of Iran in most Arab and Islamic countries was fairly positive, but this was not stemmed from Iran’s positive policies rather than from its ability to manipulate the masses through emotional blackmail. Till then, Iran had succeeded in deceiving the public into buying its claim that it was defending the Palestinian cause and the oppressed people all over the world as well as being victim of the Western policies.
However, after 2008, things started to change. The 2009 presidential elections and the "Green Revolution" had deep impact on promoting the negative image of Iran as a theocratic state "steeped in corruption and fraud" that "showed no respect for freedoms, did not uphold the rule of law, and kept its people under hegemony."
In the same year, the results of an analysis carried out on the general attitude of columnists in 11 Arab newspapers and published by the UAE magazine “Afaq al-Mustaqbal”, revealed that (85.5%) of the columnists opposed the Iranian regime's claim that "the Green Revolution was an external conspiracy" and held that it was an internal affair that had nothing to do with Western intervention.
After that period, Iran's image in the Arab world began to deteriorate as a result of its regional bargains with the U.S. administration, particularly regarding Iraq (i.e. The deal after which Al-Maliki was appointed), in addition to some scandals on the secret Iran–Israel relations" i.e., Ofer Brothers case". These cases have revealed that Iran's words contradicted its deeds leading a majority of the Arabs to realize that Iran's rhetoric about "resistance" was mere hypocrisy and nothing but a tool for its national interests.
The sectarian policies of Iran in Iraq, Lebanon and other countries as Yemen, Bahrain and Kuwait have contributed to the spread of its negative image as a country trying to dominate the region and to make use of the Arab countries as a bargain chip with the West.
With the eruption of the Arab uprising at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, Iran began to lose its popularity, and the public opinion in the Arab world witnessed a radical change towards it especially after the Syrian revolution. At that time, an overwhelming majority of Arab public opinion had a negative view of Iran, and the contradiction between Arab public opinion and the Arab governments that once existed before 2008 began to fade away. The Syrian revolution has revealed the true colors of Iran and all subsequent public polls have substantiated this.
In 2012 the Zogby Institute carried out the most comprehensive survey regarding Iran's image in the Arab world comparing to its 2006 results. The Survey covered 17 Arab countries in addition to Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan. The results showed that the vast majority of these countries hold negative views of Iran with Saudi Arabia (84%), Qatar (79%), Turkey (77%), Jordan (74%), Pakistan (71%), Azerbaijan where the majority of the population are Shiite (75%), and even Palestine of which Iran was the so-called defender for a long time (70%).
According to the results, Iran’s unfavorable ratings in these countries appear to be driven by its foreign policies in Iraq, Syria, the Arab Gulf region, and its serious inroads into the region’s Shia population, especially in Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the survey showed that all of the said countries with the exception of Lebanon believed that Iran's nuclear program was not peaceful, and that’s why they supported the sanctions in place against Iran.
Another survey conducted by the TESEV Institute in 2013 showed that Iran was at the top of the pyramid when it comes to countries following sectarian policies along with the Iraqi government and Syrian regime.
All these surveys helped to demonstrate that there was a large consensus maintaining that Iran's following sectarian policies in the region, creation of armed militias, recruiting of mercenaries and supporting the crimes the Assad regime committed against its own people are the most dangerous weapons it possesses.
In 2015, the Iranian regime was negotiating with the U.S. on the nuclear program and a number of other issues regarding the region. Although an agreement was reached on this nuclear program, image of Iran remained very negative regionally and worldwide. In June 2015, the Pew Research Center released the results of its survey which showed that 31 out of 40 countries worldwide held unfavorable opinion of Iran. Moreover, the results showed declining ratings for Iran in Muslim-majority nations, and that President Hasan Rouhani was negatively viewed in Middle East despite the fact that he had previously been presented as a moderate reformist to the world.
This negative outlook on Iran has become more ingrained after the nuclear deal. At the beginning of 2016, Al-Jazeera Center for Studies released the results of a survey it conducted in 21 Arab countries regarding how the Arab intellectuals viewed Iran. This survey showed that (88%) of the participants considered that Iran exploited the Palestinian issue in order to gain influence in the Arab world and its discourse on Palestine had no credibility anymore.
According to the survey, (82%) of the participants thought that Velayet-el Faqih in Iran played a negative role in its relationship with the Arab world, and still a large majority noted that Iran’s saying that it has interests in some Arab countries cannot justify its policies or its meddling in the internal affairs of these countries. (85%) of the participants were against Iran's intervention in Syria, (87%) was against its intervention in Yemen, and (86%) was against its Iraq intervention.
As for the nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, (70%) expressed fear in regard to the rapprochement between the two countries thinking that this deal is going to increase Iran's influence in the countries of the region and help Tehran to restore its old role as "the policeman of the Gulf." Besides, (83%) expressed fear of this nuclear agreement thinking it would lead to widespread sectarian confrontation, and threaten the Arab national security.
In short, this negative image of Iran is growing in the Arab and Muslim world on both the official and public level. This is not related to the confrontation between Iran and one particular country as we can see, it is related to the majority of the Arab and Muslim countries. Obviously, the main reason of this negative image was primarily the negative behavior of the Iranian regime in the region. This is a kind of attitude that has been perpetuated for over 10 years, and it was causing devastation in the region and undermining Islam from within. Unless Iran changes this course or is forced to change it, it will have to face up its implications sooner or later.
- Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy.