LONDON: Tehran-backed attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities will only add to the view among young Arabs that Iran is an “enemy,” a panel of regional experts said on Monday.
According to the Arab Youth Survey, which was published in May by the PR consultancy ASDA’A BCW, 67 percent of the region’s youth saw Iran as an enemy, as opposed to 32 percent who saw it as an ally.
However, members of a panel discussion at Chatham House, in London, said the attacks on the Saudi Aramco sites, as well as Iran’s seizure of a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, have solidified, if not increased, negative views of the country.
“I would imagine that the tensions demonstrate that the findings in the report hold. They may even have increased perceptions of Iran being an enemy,” Dr. Simon Mabon, senior lecturer in international relations at Lancaster University, told Arab News.
Iran denies involvement in the attacks, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia. Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi militants, an Iranian-aligned militia fighting the Arab coalition in Yemen’s civil war.
However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week: “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply…There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
The survey’s results also showed the US becoming perceived more and more as an enemy rather than an ally since Donald Trump became president, with 59 percent of the youth seeing it as the former. This is a 27 percent rise in negative perception from 2016’s survey result.
“This is where we see what’s called the Trump effect…you don’t have to look too far. Look at all the policies he made, the travel bans, and all those kinds of things,” Sunil John, founder ASDA'A BCW, said.
Saudi Arabia featured prominently in the survey in several ways. When asked which countries had grown in prominence in regional and international affairs, 37 percent of young Arabs named the Kingdom as the biggest gainer in influence this year, with the UAE coming in second at 27 percent.
“We’re moving from the power hubs of Baghdad and Cairo to those of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” John added.
The eleventh annual survey is based on 3,300 face-to-face interviews with Arabs between the ages of 18-24, split equally between men and women, in January this year.