NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday

Poll Takes the Pulse of the Middle East

LIANE HANSEN, host: Professor Telhami joins us now.

Good morning. Good to talk to you.

Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, University Maryland): Good morning to you.

HANSEN: Let's start with Iran. Sixty-one percent of the respondents thought Iran has the right to its nuclear program. Fifty-one percent yet believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. What do you make of those results? Do they surprise you?

Prof. TELHAMI: They didn't in a way, because we had a similar finding last year, but this year was stronger. That is, even a bigger majority didn't want the international community to pressure them to stop it. And a majority - slight majority, 51 percent - actually believed they are developing nuclear weapons.

It's an in interesting context here because Arab public is looking at the world through the prism of anger with the U.S., through the prism of the Israeli/Palestinian issue, and through the prism of Iraq. And those scores, they don't see Iran as the key threat to them. So when you ask them, you know, name the two countries that are most threatening to you, the vast majority - over 70 percent - name both the United States and Israel. And only about 11 percent name Iran. That varies slightly from country to country. More people in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are worried about Iran. But still, the trend is the same across the board.

HANSEN: There is a wide split though, to break it down a little bit, between Lebanon, for example. I mean they're very divided, 51 percent saying Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, 43 percent saying it should be pressure to stop. And on the other hand of the spectrum is Morocco; 77 percent said Iran has the right to nuclear power. Nine percent are opposed.

How do you explain that difference, that large difference?

Prof. TELHAMI: It's fascinating because in Lebanon, particularly, I broke it down into the sectarian elements. And you can see that the vast majority of the Shia - the overwhelming, almost monolithic - clearly support the Iranian effort, while the majority of the Sunnis and the Christians and the Druze oppose the Iranian nuclear effort. And so when you look at that, you could see it in the context in what's developing in Lebanon. Lebanese views on these issues, particularly toward Iran, are highly sectarian. Because of course the alliance between Iran and Hezbollah, if you support Hezbollah you're in a way sympathetic with Iran. If you oppose it, you're not sympathetic with Iran.

That's interesting because in the rest of the Arab world, actually much of the Arab world, the public's views on these issues and on Shia/Sunni issues, such as the power of Hezbollah, what's happening in Lebanon, they sympathize with the Shia in Lebanon more on those issues. Not that they're sympathetic with the Shia as such, but they're seeing these issues about Hezbollah power vis-à-vis Israel, the rise of Iran, through the prism of anger with Israel and the United States. And in that sense they actually coincide more with the views of the Shia in Lebanon than with the views of Sunnis in Lebanon.

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