US campaign affecting Saudi businesses
New Straits Times Press (Malaysia)
May 9 2002
A grassroots campaign to boycott US products in Saudi Arabia has
already taken its toll on many local businesses, with sales dropping
drastically, executives and activists said today.
The campaign, a protest against perceived US support for Israel,
is being conducted from mosques, schools and universities, and through
newspapers, the Internet and mobile phone text messages urging consumers
to shun products originating from the United States.
The Saudi "boycott US" drive mirrors a similar campaign
which gathered momentum in several parts of the Arab world at the
peak of Israel's invasion of Palestinian lands that began on March
Imams at Saudi mosques have been delivering fiery sermons urging
worshippers to drop US consumer goods in favour of other products,
ruling that supporting the US economy amounts to killing Palestinians
and other Muslims under attack.
Young Saudi boys stand in front of major shopping malls to distribute
flyers and leaflets containing a long list of brand names that must
be boycotted "in support of our Palestinian brothers."
"I have never seen such an organised anti-US campaign in the
kingdom. It looks as if everyone is involved, from school students
to religious clerics," a Saudi businessman said.
"Two days ago, a carefully-prepared 20page file was thrown
into my house, containing all the information about US products
that we should stop buying. They are organised," the businessman
Mobile phone owners have received millions of messages exhorting
them to join the boycott.
"The least you can do is boycott US products," reads
one message. "Don't be a partner to crime ... With each dollar
you pay (to buy US goods) you kill a Palestinian," says another
in reference to US arms supplies to Israel.
Saudis have also been bombarded by emails explaining which companies
they should boycott and giving a background on many of those firms
and their links with Israel. The campaign is especially hurting
business at fast food franchises, sales of soft drinks, and a wide
range of consumer goods, but vehicles too.
Al-Watan newspaper quoted merchants in Riyadh as reporting a drop
of 20 to 30 per cent in the sales of US products.
An operations manager at a fast-food chain in Riyadh said many
of the US chains were facing difficult times after their sales dropped
by more than 40 per cent.
"They are trying to cope with the crisis by offering unprecedented
huge promotions, and trying to dissociate themselves from the American
connection," the manager, requesting anonymity, said.
Burger King, McDonald's and other fastfood chains have a total
of more than 300 outlets across the kingdom, concentrated mainly
in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
The Saudi franchise of Burger King has published a huge colour
advertisement in the local press saying that all its products are
entirely Saudi, and combined that with a lucrative promotion.
A Saudi food company that imports US rice splashed posters across
the capital saying it would donate one riyal (RM1.02) to the Palestinians
for each bag it sells.
Other firms have been actively advertising their huge donations
for the Palestinians during a fund-raising campaign last month which
collected some US$160 million (RM608 million).
Saudi Arabia is the US' main trading partner in the Middle East
with US civilian and military exports valued at US$6.2 billion and
imports at US$14.2 billion in 2000, according to official figures.
The oil-rich kingdom is the second largest importer from the US
in the Middle East after Israel, but tops the list of exporters.
The campaign is not expected to affect official trade and investment
ties between the two allies.
Saudi Arabia is pressing ahead with talks with mainly US firms
on a multi-billiondollar gas project. AFP