- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

While tens of thousands of Iranians have protested the outcome of their presidential election and several Western governments are withholding recognition from incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, some ordinary Arabs have been quick to embrace the results.

They see Mr. Ahmadinejad as a modest man in comparison with their wealthy rulers and as someone who has stood up to Israel.

“Ahmadinejad is a humble man,” said an Iraqi who lives in Dubai, giving her name as Reema Ali. “His attire is simple. He is not corrupt and has proven that he is a very hard cookie to break.”

“Ahmadinejad will also achieve the nuclear balance in the region with Israel,” she added in reference to Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Some Arabs have appeared indifferent to the election, while several Arab intellectuals said they would have preferred a victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who campaigned on a promise of a less confrontational foreign policy and might have been more willing to cap Iran’s nuclear program.

“Undoubtedly, re-electing Ahmadinejad will not be, in principle, a cause of relief or cheer for Arabs,” said Mahjoub Zuweiri, an Iran specialist at Jordan University’s Strategic Studies Center.

Iran’s nuclear program has raised concerns among officials and intellectuals in almost all Arab countries, and several Arab heavyweights, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have publicly accused Tehran of interfering in Arab internal affairs in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

”Re-electing Ahmadinejad is exactly the same like America re-electing George W. Bush for a second term,” said Abdel Khaleq Abdallah, a political science professor at Emirates University. “People didn’t like America because he was around.”

Now “we have just to live with this fact for the next four years,” Mr. Abdallah said of Mr. Ahmadinejad, describing the Iranian president as “confrontational.”

“The man could be an honest man, but not diplomatic,” Sadaqah Fadel, member of Saudi Shura [consultative] Council said. “He lacks the required flexibility and diplomacy which qualify him to deal with the outside world in a smooth and good way.”

However, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements denying the Holocaust and threatening Israel have won him supporters on the “Arab street,” a term used to describe public opinion, especially when it differs from that of ruling elites.

“Their view towards Ahmadinejad is the same as their view towards Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah,” Mr. Zuweiri said. “Because Israel is a sensitive issue among Arabs, and it represents injustice [to Arabs], whoever says anything against Israel is looked at positively. Exactly like Arabs’ view toward Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.”

The Saudi daily newspaper Al Watan (the Nation) cast doubt on reports that the election results were inflated to benefit Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“A lot was said about the acute deviation in the results of the Iranian elections, which granted an overwhelming majority to Ahmadinejad at a time when the polls were tilting in favor of Mousavi,” wrote Abdul Nasser al-Fawzan in an opinion column. “However, I believe that these polls were relying on the necks of the wealthy and the prominent, as well as on the media outlets, which is why they emerged before the others.

“But reality relied on the necks of the poor, who had no outlets but who expressed themselves and carried Ahmadinejad on their shoulders over the heads of the powerful and the strong when the time came.”

Some Arab analysts said the election would have little impact on Iran’s foreign policies because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say.

However, Mahdi-Abdel Hadi, a Palestinian political analyst said, “it is premature to judge whether tension in Arab-Iranian relations will ease or not.”

Relations between the Arab world and Iran improved when Mohammed Khatami was president, from 1997 to 2005.

Emirates University’s Mr. Abdallah said that if the U.S. and Iran begin a dialogue and make progress, “maybe some of the tension spots and hot areas will witness some sort of easing.”

Others fear any improvement in U.S.-Iran relations will come at the Arabs’ expense.

“Arabs should act as one group,” Mr. Abdallah said. “If the anticipated dialogue aims at changing Iran from a source of instability to a source of stability, it is going to be in the interests of Arabs and should be encouraged. But if it aims at making Iran the political capital for the Arab region, with 99 percent of keys to the region’s issues, then it will be against the Arab region … . I don’t believe the U.S. will sacrifice its friends to win its enemies,” Mr. Abdallah said.

Jumana al-Tamimi is associate editor at the Gulf News newspaper, published in Dubai.

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