“… In the era of Arab public uprisings, it is helpful to start with Arab public attitudes that have become increasingly important particularly in the formulation of policy toward Iran in post-Mubarak Egypt. These public attitudes also go to the heart of some of the worries about Iran felt by governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
Despite the Sunni-Shi’a divide—especially in Arab states where Shi’a populations are majorities or pluralities such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain—which is often matched by a division in attitude about Iran in these countries along sectarian lines, Sunni Arab populations elsewhere tend to base their views of Iran on issues that go far beyond this divide, and on some of which they are inclined to favor Iran. In polls I have conducted in six Arab countries—Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Lebanon—Iran consistently placed third on the list of choices provided by respondents when asked to identify the “two most threatening states,” indicating that many Arabs do see it as a threat. But what is more important in this case is that Arabs see Israel and the United States as presenting far greater threats. For example, in 2009, 88 percent of those polled identified Israel, 76 percent identified the United States, and only 12 percent identified Iran as one of the two greatest threats.1
There was some change a year after the start of the Arab uprisings in the November 2011 poll, although Iran remained far behind Israel and the United States: 71 percent identified Israel, 59 percent identified the United States, and 18 percent identified Iran as one ofthe two greatest threats.
This ranking of the Iranian threat in relation to Israel and the United States is particularly important with regard to the nuclear issue, where worries about Israel and the United States trump worries about Iran’s nuclear potential. Consistently, before and after the Arab uprisings, majorities of Arabs polled indicate their opposition to international pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program. This surprisingly includes Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel who certainly would be as affected as its Jewish citizens in case of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. The sense of “double standards” in dealing with Israel’s nuclear program on the one hand, and Arab and Muslim capabilities on the other, is one of the driving forces of Arab public attitudes on this issue. …”