"I have always been against him," says Omar Beydoun, dicing a joint of lamb for grilling in his shop in Beirut's Sunni neighborhood of Qasqas. "Ahmadinejad is causing trouble for the whole region, here in Lebanon with Hezbollah, meddling with the Palestinians, and trying to spread Shiism among Arabs. What do I care about internal fighting in Iran? If it's not Ahmadinejad, it will be someone just as bad."
Mr. Beydoun is hardly alone in a region where sporadic support for Iran among the masses was rarely matched by Arab governments, which have long been wary of Iranian motives and of spreading Shiite influence. True, for several years Iran's strategic star was definitely rising, even as America's appeared to be falling. This was especially true after Hezbollah declared victory over US-supported Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, and the insurgency in Iraq threatened the American occupation, inflicting a rising toll in US lives in 2006 and 2007.
At the time, Iranian officials crowed that the United States had been rendered harmless and near "death." They said Western democracy had "failed." Ahmadinejad himself, in an Egyptian poll, was found to be the second most popular politician in the region, after Mr. Nasrallah.
Yet the fascination with Iran didn't always stem from anything noble going on in Tehran and, in many quarters, was short-lived.