x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arab world backs UAE's stance over Iran occupation, shows poll

A new survey has found strong support across the Arab world for the UAE in its diplomatic row with Iran over the occupied islands.

A general view of the Greater Tunb, one of the three islands of the UAE occupied by Iran.
A general view of the Greater Tunb, one of the three islands of the UAE occupied by Iran.

A new survey has found strong support across the Arab world for the UAE in its diplomatic row with Iran over the occupied islands.

Of 2,066 people surveyed in 18 countries - from Oman to Morocco - for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme by the pollster YouGov, almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) respondents expressed support for the UAE.

The survey was conducted after the April visit to Abu Musa by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but before yesterday's trip by the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Maj Gen Mohammad-Ali Jafari, to the island, and to Greater and Lesser Tunb.

During his visit, Mr Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which he insisted the Gulf should be called the "Persian Gulf" and claimed Iranian sovereignty over the three islands.

Iran invaded the islands on the eve of the UAE's foundation in 1971. Since then, the UAE has repeatedly pressed its claim through international bodies and in direct discussions with Iran.

The UAE immediately declared Mr Ahmadinejad's visit to be provocative, recalling its ambassador to Tehran and calling on the country to engage in dialogue to solve the dispute.

Dr Mariam Lootah, a political science professor at UAE University, said the Arab solidarity was not surprising. The UAE's security was important for the rest of the Arab world, she said.

Ali Jassim, an FNC member from Umm Al Quwain, stressed the importance of political knowledge and patriotism to maintain that solidarity. "There are no strong bonds [like before]," he said. "The idea of Arab patriotism needs to be strengthened."

Across all countries, there is agreement (63 per cent) that the Iranian president's visit was a provocative act that violated the UAE's sovereignty over the islands, with just 9 per cent disagreeing. The feeling is even stronger among the 167 surveyed in the UAE, with four in five (80per cent) agreeing, and just 4 per cent disagreeing.

Few, however, are optimistic that the dispute will be resolved any time soon. Just 36 per cent of those polled in all 18 countries - and 37 per cent in the UAE - believe an early settlement is possible.

On almost all questions, support for the UAE is strongest in the GCC. Theodore Karasik, a political analyst and head of research at Inegma, said that as a union, aggression against one GCC country was keenly felt by the others.

The survey reveals, however, varying knowledge of the dispute beyond the Gulf.

Most UAE residents consider they know at least something of the issues, and GCC residents are only a almost as well informed - with 59 per cent saying they have some notion of them.

That number is considerably lower, however, in further-flung Arab countries, such as Morocco (44 per cent) and Algeria (33 per cent).

Maysoon Baraky, the presenter of Nabd Al Arab, said the level of Arab support for the UAE is striking even though "so many admit ignorance of the issue entirely".

Respondents were divided, however, about Iran's motive behind the occupation. Across the Arab world, more than four in five (84 per cent) believe it treasured the islands' strategic location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of world oil trade passes.

A similar number (89 per cent) believe Iran seeks control over the oil trade in the area, and 85 per cent believe Iran seeks the oil under the islands themselves.

Almost as many think Iran seeks the ability to attack the GCC or to attack or deter US Navy troops.

Yet 82 per cent agree that Iran's actions may be more for psychological than strategic purposes.

Mr Jassim said the truth was probably a combination of all these factors.

"These islands are in the middle of the trade passage, that's why it is important," he said. "Some areas have petrol, it is in a strategic location, it has natural resources - these are all the reasons."

When it came to the UAE's response to the visit, respondents living here were unsurprisingly more vocal than others in their support.

Four in five UAE residents agreed with the UAE's condemnation of the visit, against 63 per cent of the 1096 people surveyed in the GCC as a whole.

And UAE respondents were almost unanimous in their support of the country's recall of its ambassador to Tehran, with 95 per cent agreeing. In the wider Arab world, that figure was 73 per cent.

But they were split on whether the visit called for international intervention- 51 per cent agreed, but 49 per cent disagreed. The GCC was similarly divided, as was the rest of the Arab world.

Mr Jassim noted that if Iran really was the rightful owner to the islands, it would not fear international arbitration.

"Why are they scared of an international ruling if they have proof?" he added.

* 2,066 people in 18 Arab countries responded to the survey between 26 April and 6 May. The margin of error for the whole survey was 2 percentage points, for the GCC 3 points, and for the UAE 8 points.

osalem@thenational.ae