An Anti-American Boycott Is Growing in the Arab World

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 12 May 2002 11:37:25 +0100

CAIRO, May 9 — Doughnuts may not be quite as American as, say, apple
pie, but they come close enough to make Samir Nasier, a Saudi fast-food
king, nervous. 

So nervous, in fact, that Mr. Nasier and his brothers are offering
roughly $300,000 to anyone who can prove that their House of Donuts
chain has any connection to the United States. 

For good measure, their slogan "the American pastry" is being
jettisoned, with Mr. Nasier musing aloud that doughnuts might qualify as
traditional Saudi fare, given that he started making them 21 years ago. 

"We share the same outraged feelings of the Saudi public toward the
attitude of the American administration," Mr. Nasier said, speaking by
telephone from the Jidda headquarters of his 180-outlet chain. "We are
deleting anything that relates to America." 

American support for Israel, especially during its recent military
offensive in the occupied territories, is driving a grass-roots effort
to boycott American products throughout the Arab world. With word spread
via the Internet, mosque sermons, fliers and even mobile phone messages,
the boycott seems to be slowly gathering force, especially against
consumer products. 

Purchases of American goods generated by 300 million Arabs form such a
small part of American exports that even a widespread boycott would not
cause much of a blip. Most trade consists of big ticket items like
airplanes, with total American exports to the Middle East amounting to
$20 billion in 2000, just 2.5 percent of America's total exports. 

But a long boycott could retard the spread of franchises and other
products, experts say. Sales at most American fast-food outlets in the
Arab world are already off somewhere between 20 and 30 percent on
average, American diplomats and industry analysts say, and consumer
products face a similar decline. 

The boycotts have largely been the effort of individuals and small
groups without government involvement, like student organizations and
such civic organizations as are allowed to exist. They reflect a growing
sentiment that Arabs should distance themselves from the United States,
and they want their governments to do likewise. 

"They are beginning to feel that shouting slogans in reaction to what
the U.S. is doing is not enough," said Kamal Hamdan, a Lebanese
economist. A Marlboro smoker, he said that whenever he pulls out a
packet, somebody invariably now reproaches him with, "What, still
smoking American cigarettes?" 

He went on: "They want to design detailed programs against specific
goods and services that might involve the banking system, insurance,
financial markets. They want to find some pressure points that can have
an economic impact." 

The attitude is everywhere. Scores of lists circulate suggesting
non-American substitutes for things like Lays potato chips and Head &
Shoulders shampoo. The research does not always seem that rigorous;
Domino's Pizza was listed as non-American on one list apparently on the
strength of sounding Italian. 

Al Montazah, a supermarket chain in Bahrain, enforced the boycott on all
its roughly 10,000 daily customers by replacing some 1,000 American
products with alternatives. A few parents lacking Pampers diapers
grumbled, but Abdulmonem al-Meer, the general manager, said the move had
boosted sales at some stores. 

"I know it will not do much in terms of putting pressure on the American
government, but whatever I can do I should do," Mr. Meer said. 

The boycott calls have thus far prompted little violence toward American
companies, although an empty Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in the
northern Lebanese city of Tripoli was bombed overnight Thursday. 

Even places like Syria, where American products have long been barred,
are trying to get into the act. Billboards around Damascus show horrific
scenes of Israeli troops razing Jenin refugee camp, with the slogan,
"Boycott American products — Don't be an accomplice," in Arabic and
English. 

"No Americans Allowed," reads a yardlong wooden sign in the window of
Mondo restaurant, incongruously an American-style diner decorated with
icons like the Statue of Liberty. "The American people should feel that
they have a problem," said Ahmed Diab, the 38-year-old owner. 

The Arabs established a boycott office in Damascus in 1951 against
companies that did business with Israel, and that kept products like
Coca-Cola and Ford vehicles out of the Middle East for decades. But it
gradually faded as major markets like Egypt signed a peace treaty with
Israel. 

Boycott support in the region's government-run newspapers has been
almost universal, although outright endorsements by senior officials
have been rare, given that it could hurt foreign investment. The Syrian
government is among the few encouraging the boycott. 

More typical is a speech by Sheika Fatima al-Nahyan, the wife of the
ruler of Ajman in the United Arab Emirates, telling a women's group,
"Start by boycotting all makeup and clothes made by the enemies and
prevent children from buying their products, too." 

The idea has gained the whole-hearted support of many religious figures,
with myriad Friday prayer sermons devoted to the issue. Worshipers at
one Jidda mosque were so fired up when they emerged that they converged
on a hapless grocer next door to demand that he tear down a Coke sign.
He demurred. 

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the influential Muslim cleric on Al Jazeera
satellite network, displays a blinking banner on his Web site that
reads, "Boycott America from Pepsi cans to Boeing." 

Indeed, the flood of e-mail and Web sites sets this effort apart from
all previous ones. Calls for boycotting three American corporations —
McDonald's, Starbucks and Microsoft — gained rapid momentum through the
Internet. 

In the case of McDonald's, the rumor erupted that it donated a part of
every meal's cost to Israel. Local franchises from Morocco to the
Persian Gulf issued statements denying it, stressing that they were
locally owned and operated. The Lebanese McDonald's even paid for an
instant message to be flashed on 60,000 cellphones, but in some cases
the damage had been done. 

After a McDonald's opened a year ago at the end of her street in Taif,
Saudi Arabia, Lama Muhammad's 5-year-old daughter insisted on one Happy
Meal a day. But recently she started watching the news with her mother.
"I told her we are not supposed to buy from there because they support
Israel," her mother said. The child has not asked for a Happy Meal
since. Saudi parents report that their children vie in the schoolyard to
list all the American things they avoid. 

In the case of Microsoft and Starbucks, word bombarded across the
Internet after the Israeli Microsoft branch sponsored a billboard
supporting the Israeli Army, as did remarks reportedly made by Howard
Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, at his Seattle synagogue. 

A local news article forwarded endlessly quoted him as saying that Jews
needed to confront rising anti-Semitism worldwide and that the
Palestinians needed to do more to fight terrorism. The remarks about the
Palestinians prompted the boycott call, even though the company issued
two statements saying Mr. Schultz did not believe terrorism was
representative of the Palestinian people and that he thought Israeli and
Palestinian states should live together peacefully. 

"Everybody is addicted to Starbucks — it's the hip place," said Kholood
Khatami, a 25-year-old Saudi journalist. "It's not empty, but it is not
as crowded as it used to be. I'm boycotting. Of course, there are some
things you cannot avoid — technology and software is all American." 

Many companies, especially fast-food restaurants, are fighting back with
huge advertising campaigns saying the boycott will only hurt locals.
Burger King, in a typical advertisement this week in Saudi Arabia,
pointed out that it bought everything from bread to lettuce to
mayonnaise from Saudi producers. 

Others with American products like Kellogg's breakfast cereal or
Hershey's chocolate are hoping that the United States will change its
Middle East policy fast enough for old consumer habits to return. 

"Our sales are suffering, but I am not concerned about the loss of
sales," said Sheik Wahib S. Binzagr, the patriarch of a Jidda merchant
family that has imported a wide variety of American goods for decades.
He was nonplused to find the clan's own name on the boycott list. 

"I laugh from desperation because I cannot do anything about it," he
said. "There is damage, and I think efforts should be mobilized to
rectify the bad relationship, and then the other things will correct
themselves." 

Source:  NY Times

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