Iran has a serious image problem in the Arab world. According to the most recent data made available by the Arab Opinion Index, a majority of citizens in the Arab world view Iran in negative terms. Not only is Iranian foreign policy viewed negatively across the Arab world, Iran consistently ranks high as one of the biggest threats to the Arab world. Iran’s nuclear program is perceived as a source of regional instability, its policy toward Palestine, Syria, and Yemen is considered as highly disruptive to regional peace, and the country is seen as a major source of regional sectarianism and ethnic separatist tendencies across the Arab world.
This paper examines Arab attitudes toward Iran as revealed through the 2019-2020 and 2017-2018 Arab Opinion Index, compiled from public opinion surveys in thirteen Arab countries by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. The countries surveyed in 2019-2020 included Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Tunisia. Based on the data in the surveys, some of the key findings are as follows:
- Since 2011, Iranian foreign policy has steadily been seen in the Arab world as a major source of instability and as a rising threat. In most Arab countries, Iran is viewed as the third largest threat to the Arab world, following Israel and the United States, though in Saudi Arabia nearly twice as many people consider Iran as a major threat as compared to Israel.
- While mostly supportive of the Iranian nuclear program prior to 2011, today most Arabs approve of the American withdrawal from the comprehensive nuclear agreement that was signed between Iran and the EU+3 in 2015.
- Nearly twice as many Arabs consistently consider Iranian policies toward Palestine, Syria, and Yemen to be bad or very bad as compared to those who consider them to be good or very good.
- A majority of Arabs believe Iran fuels sectarian and ethnic separatist tendencies in the Arab world.