Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - AFP - June 7, 2011.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flashes the victory sign during a press conference in Tehran on June 7, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Iran's popularity in the Arab world has sharply dropped in the past decade, according to a new poll by the Arab American Institute presented in Washington, D.C on Wednesday.

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The poll, conducted in June in six Arab countries - Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - shows that Iran has become a regional irritant. The U.S. diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks have shown last year that Iran is a first-priority issue for the Arab leaders - but this new poll shows it is an issue that troubles the Arab public as well.

When asked whether Iran plays a positive, negative or neutral role in the region, majorities in all countries but Lebanon saw Iran as influencing the region negatively.

“It really was rather shocking I thought,” the director of the Arab American Institute, Dr. James Zogby, told the American news site Newsmax. “Even a couple of years ago, people would say, 'Oh, Arab leaders are against Iran, but their people aren’t.'"

Zogby believes Iran's popularity has plummeted largely due to the Tehran regime's meddling in sectarian politics in Arab states and its opposition to peace in the Middle East.

In 2006, Iran's positive rating stood at 68-82%, while today it stands at 6% in Saudi Arabia, 14% in Morocco, 22% in the United Arab Emirates, 23% in Jordan, 37% in Egypt, but 63% in Lebanon. (It should be noted though that the rating of the United Nations is even lower in all six countries, with an average rating of 24%).

Overall, the poll showed that Arabs would prefer to see the Middle East free of nuclear weapons - 62% in Morocco, 53% in Egypt, 88% in Jordan, 94% in Saudi Arabia, 76% in the United Arab Emirates. But again, in Lebanon only 23% want to see the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone - whereas 39% of the Lebanese think the region will be more secure if Iran had a nuclear bomb, with 75% of Shi'ites supporting this view.

When asked which country they would prefer to have nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the favored option appeared to be Egypt - 61% of Moroccans would rather see it nuclear, as do 89% of Egyptians, 52% of Jordanians, 12% of Saudis, and 52% of the residents of the United Arab Emirates. The second country preferred by Arab states to have nuclear weapons was Turkey, with 13% of support in Morocco, 3% in Egypt, 26% in Lebanon, 16% in Jordan, 7% in Saudi Arabia, and 20% in the United Arab Emirates.

Zogby said the results of the poll do not mean the U.S. should try to exploit the public opinion in the region toward Iran by raising its level of rhetoric or threats.

"It shows Arab leadership is concerned with Iran - but so are Arab people, so the Arab leadership will have to take these sentiments into consideration", he said in a briefing with reporters. "It's not an exclusive American portfolio anymore, to be concerned about Iranian actions, but for the Arab public, it's not among the top priorities in the region - they are much more worried about the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It's true though that Israel is not the target of Iran, it's the lever that Iran uses in the Arab world. They know that by picking the fight with Israel, it helps them to rally support of their alienated and frustrated public. If there were a peace agreement - Iran wouldn't have any boogey man to play off with - as much as Iran is the convenient boogeyman for Israel".

Zogby said he would be happy to know what Syrians think these days about Iran - but "Syria is not easy to poll now", he said.