Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

On Iran, Wikileaks and Arab opinion

Looking below the surface

Recently published diplomatic cables obtained through WikiLeaks have given the impression — fostered by selective reporting — that most Arab countries distrust and fear Iran, and some would welcome a military attack on it by the U.S. or Israel. But this is grotesquely superficial and therefore deeply misleading.

Arab opinion, 2010: Nuclear-armed Iran a good thing for the Middle East

“The Tell-Tale Chart”? — Arab opinion, 2010: Nuclear-armed Iran a good thing for the Middle East.
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As the poll reported on this page clarifies, the opinions represented in the cables are those of the autocratic governments allied with the US — and are far from uniform even among them. As so often under such regimes, the opinions audible outside the region reflect only the concerns of a sycophantic ruling elite that has identified with its neocolonial overlords, while the thoughts of the people living under that elite are muted and go unheard. And it is hardly surprising that what the US’ satrapies say for its consumption tends to be what they think the hegemony wants to hear.

What our “friends” in the Arab world don’t want us to know is what the muzzled majority actually thinks. In this case, for example, we find that, far from fearing Iran, many ordinary Arabs respect it for its independence, and — in contrast with polls taken as little as a year ago — a majority now feels that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a good thing for the Middle East. Additionally, and still more significantly, we find that, of Arabs surveyed, when asked to identify the states that they thought most threatened regional security, only ten percent named Iran; meanwhile, 88 percent picked Israel and 77 percent the United States.

I am thankful for WikiLeaks. It provides investigative journalism with tools never before available, permitting reporters to look behind the facade of what governments want us to believe and find what they are actually doing and saying, both internally and among themselves. But like any tool, it is what its wielder makes of it, and we must therefore be prepared to look beyond what the elite says — in private as well as for public consumption — and realize that it is often deeply at odds with the interests and desires of the people controlled by but not represented by that elite.

Originally published as a review of a December 2010 brookings.edu report on public opinion in the Middle East.

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