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Viewing cable 09RPODUBAI316, IRAN: AHMADINEJAD'S STAR FADING IN THE ARAB WORLD?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RPODUBAI316 2009-08-03 11:11 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
VZCZCXRO3166
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDIR #0316/01 2151125
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 031125Z AUG 09
FM RPO DUBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0474
INFO RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHDIR/RPO DUBAI 0475
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RPO DUBAI 000316 
 
NOFORN 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  8/3/2019 
TAGS: PREL PROP PGOV PINR IR
SUBJECT: IRAN: AHMADINEJAD'S STAR FADING IN THE ARAB WORLD? 
 
DUBAI 00000316  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Timothy Richardson, Acting Director, Iran 
Regional Presence Office, Department of State. 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
1. (U) This is a joint cable by the Iran Regional Presence 
Office and the Dubai Regional Media Hub. 
 
 
 
2. (S/NF) Summary: Since Iran's June 12 presidential elections, 
Arab media have intensely focused their coverage on the 
demonstrations in Iran and the international community's 
response to the government crackdown.  Whereas in recent years 
the Arab media have limited their commentary to Iran's external 
relations -- particularly its regional ambitions and the 
international implications of its nuclear program -- during the 
post-election crisis Arab commentators have, for the first time, 
poked a hole in the veneer of the Islamic Republic's internal 
political system and explored its underpinnings more closely, 
often challenging the system's very legitimacy in on-air 
commentary.  A number of these commentators have opined that 
Ahmadinejad has, at least in the near term, lost standing among 
some moderate Arabs, who have come to view Ahmadinejad's 
administration as oppressive, unpopular, and undemocratic, much 
as they criticize many Arab governments.  However, all of the 
Arab media figures we spoke to emphasized that Arab criticism of 
Ahmadinejad has not necessarily led to increased support for 
U.S. policy in the region.  On the contrary, closer analysis 
suggests that Ahmadinejad's eroding popularity in the Arab world 
has created a scenario in which any U.S. effort to engage the 
current Iranian government will be perceived by a wide spectrum 
of Arabs as accommodation with Ahmadinejad. 
 
 
 
ALL EYES ON IRAN 
 
---------------- 
 
 
 
3. (S/NF) Iran's post-election crisis has dominated the Arab 
media's news coverage for the past seven weeks.  The 
demonstrations have garnered special coverage on Al-Arabiya and 
have consistently been among the top headlines on Al-Jazeera. 
The marketing director of the Middle East Broadcasting Company 
(MBC), parent company of Al-Arabiya, told IRPO/DRMH that 
Al-Arabiya's viewership has skyrocketed since the June 12 
election.  Al-Arabiya's news website has also experienced a 
dramatic increase in visits from users living in the region 
between Tripoli and Amman, which the marketing director, a 
native of Lebanon, attributed to the tremendous interest Sunni 
Arabs have in watching the drama in Iran unfold.  Coverage of 
Iran's election aftermath is not limited to straightforward news 
reporting; editorial pages, media commentaries, and the Arab 
blogosphere have also been abuzz with debate over the 
demonstrations, the international community's response, and the 
implications of these events for the Arab world.  While Iran's 
elections may no longer command daily headlines in the Western 
media, nearly all the Arab media commentators with whom we spoke 
recognized that the Arab street remains firmly focused on the 
recent unrest and continuing political drama playing out in Iran. 
 
 
 
THE BENEVOLENT DICTATOR'S FALL FROM GRACE? 
 
------------------------------------------ 
 
 
 
4. (S/NF) A Syrian journalist and blogger, who owns a media 
consultancy firm in Dubai, believes that many in the Arab street 
initially viewed Ahmadinejad when he came to power in 2005 as a 
"benevolent dictator."  Citing the tradition of the Mahdi, the 
media consultant argued that both Shi'a and Sunni Arabs are 
taught from early childhood to await the arrival of a strong and 
unimpeachable figure who will lead the Muslim world.  The media 
consultant maintained that even secular Arabs view the world, 
albeit unintentionally, with this ingrained mindset.  Our 
contact argued that Ahmadinejad played in to this narrative, and 
when Ahmadinejad arrived on the international stage many Arabs 
saw him, in contrast to their own flawed leaders, as a humble 
and pious man who was brave enough to stand up for his people 
and the greater Muslim world by confronting Israel and the West 
head on.  However,  both the intensely competitive campaign 
period and the forceful reaction by the Iranian people to the 
official election results have led some moderate Arabs to 
rethink Ahmadinejad's  true disposition. The election, the media 
consultant said, led some Arabs to understand that despite his 
astutely crafted and well-marketed image in the Arab world, 
 
DUBAI 00000316  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
Ahmadinejad is resented by many Iranians for domestic 
mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption.  Because of this 
public fall from grace, so the media consultant told us, 
Ahmadinejad is no longer the "untouchable, holy figure" in the 
Arab world he once was -- his flaws have brought him down to the 
level of the Arab world's own imperfect leaders. An Al-Arabiya 
executive, speaking at a recent conference, said that the 
election aftermath had destroyed the image many Arabs had of the 
Islamic Revolution, and Ahmadinejad's legitimacy as a leader was 
now open to question. [NOTE: The media consultant attributed 
Iran's perceived "victories" over the U.S. and the West to 
Ahmadinejad, as opposed to Supreme Leader Khamenei.  While 
conventional wisdom in the West is that Khamenei has the final 
say over Iran's most vital interests, including the nuclear 
program, the consultant's comments suggest that the Arab street 
views Ahmadinejad as much more influential in the Islamic 
Republic's decision-making system.] 
 
 
 
POST-ELECTION CRISIS NOT A SILVER BULLET FOR ARAB REGIMES 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
 
 
 
5. (S/NF) Ahmadinejad's fall from grace notwithstanding, most of 
the Arab media commentators with whom we spoke agreed that Arab 
governments have a limited ability to capitalize on 
Ahmadinejad's missteps because of the skeletons in their own 
closets.   Al-Arabiya's former Tehran bureau chief observed that 
Arab regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who no doubt 
would like to exploit Ahmadinejad's current vulnerabilities, 
have remained noticeably silent.  In his view, they realize that 
any statement condemning Tehran's crackdown on peaceful 
dissidents would appear untenably hypocritical in the eyes of 
their own citizens.  He considers this public silence yet 
another "missed opportunity" for Arab leaders to take a stand to 
counter Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and further detract from his 
popularity with the Arab street. 
 
 
 
NEW SPACE TO DISAGREE WITH AHMADINEJAD AND THE U.S. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
 
 
6. (S/NF)  All of the Arab commentators and news media figures 
we spoke to agreed that the U.S. "played it right" throughout 
the post-election crisis by staying away from detailed public 
comments that could be perceived as interventionist.  However, 
the Arab commentators were quick to distinguish between 
criticism of Ahmadinejad in the Arab street and support for U.S. 
policies.  The Syrian media consultant said that the heated 
debates before the election, in which the three challengers -- 
Mousavi, Karroubi, and Reza'i -- publicly criticized Ahmadinejad 
for corruption and economic mismanagement, made it clear to 
Arabs that this election was about Iran, not the U.S.  This 
distinction, coupled with the U.S.' restraint in commenting on 
the election, provided an unprecedented window for Arab 
commentators to criticize Ahmadinejad without appearing to side 
with the U.S. 
 
 
 
7. (S/NF) Examples of this played out during two separate 
appearances by the Dubai Regional Media Hub Acting Director on 
live panel discussions on Abu Dhabi TV and Lebanese New TV 
regarding regional issues, including events in Iran.  Whereas 
fellow Arab panelist resolutely disagreed with her comments in 
support of U.S. policy in the region, in particular the peace 
process, they felt free to openly criticize Ahmadinejad's 
government, which they refrained from doing in the past, for its 
internal crackdown and regional ambitions.  One Saudi 
commentator contrasted Turkish regional mediation, which he 
described as a positive force in the region, with Iranian 
regional intervention, which he called pernicious and 
destabilizing.  A Lebanese commentator noted the irony of Iran 
accusing outsiders of interfering in its internal affairs when 
there is not "one corner of the Arab world" where Iran does not 
intervene behind the scenes. 
 
 
 
AHMADINEJAD DOWN BUT NOT OUT 
 
DUBAI 00000316  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
 
---------------------------- 
 
 
 
8. (S/NF) As Al-Arabiya's Tehran bureau chief noted, while 
Ahmadinejad's image may have taken a hit in the Arab street as a 
result of the government's handling of domestic dissent, the 
damage is not necessarily permanent.  In his view, the Arab 
street is notoriously emotional and "could easily be turned to 
support Ahmadinejad once again" with some trumped up slogans and 
public bravado.  The bureau chief believed that, in the 
perceived leadership void left by Arab leaders on regional 
issues, Ahmadinejad could rally public opinion by capitalizing 
on any number of sensitive issues for the Arab street, most 
prominent among them Israel, at upcoming international fora. 
The Syrian media consultant, too, cautioned the U.S. not to 
overestimate any erosion in Ahmadinejad's popularity with Arabs. 
 In his opinion, Ahmadinejad has only lost standing with a 
segment of moderates in the Arab street; he believes that most 
Arabs are so polarized, either for or against Ahmadinejad, that 
the allegations of voter fraud and the violent post-election 
crackdown on protesters will not permanently sway their 
positions one way or the other. 
 
 
 
ENGAGEMENT WITH IRAN: NO PLEASING THE ARAB STREET 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
 
 
9. (S/NF) Comment:  Once the dust settles on Iran's 
post-election crisis, Arabs will look to see if the U.S. deals 
with Ahmadinejad as it pursues its nuclear nonproliferation 
agenda despite the lingering questions over the legitimacy of 
his election.  If the U.S. enters negotiations with 
Ahmadinejad's government, moderate Arab observers may argue that 
the U.S., for the sake of its own national interest, has cut a 
deal at the expense of pro-democracy advocates -- just as many 
in the Arab street believe the U.S. has done with a number of 
Arab regimes.  Those Arabs who continue to support Ahmadinejad, 
on the other hand, may perceive negotiations as a personal 
victory for a humble leader who brought the U.S. to its knees 
through steadfast resistance.  Thus, Ahmadinejad's "fall from 
grace" in the Arab world may have created yet another obstacle 
to improved Arab perceptions of the U.S. -- in which engagement 
with an Ahmadinejad-led government is now a potentially 
lose-lose scenario in which Arabs at both ends of the pro- and 
anti-Ahmadinejad spectrum will consider negotiations with 
Teheran an accommodation with the Iranian president. 
RICHARDSON