boycott U.S. goods against American Mideast policies
The Associated Press
July 28, 2002
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Zamzam Cola has new customers in
the Gulf and plans to soon expand into more Arab markets. The Iranian
company can indirectly thank Israel for its growth.
Zamzam -- which previously exported only to Iraq and Afghanistan
-- is benefiting from a grass-roots campaign by Arabs and Muslims
to boycott American goods as a way to punish the United States for
its backing of Israel. Set off by the latest Palestinian uprising,
the boycott is especially directed at well-known American products
like Coca Cola and McDonald's.
"After Arab countries in the region started boycotting some
American goods, including Coca, demand for Zamzam began," said
Bahram Kheiri, the Iranian beverage company's director.
He wouldn't give sales figures, but said Zamzam has started exporting
to Bahrain and is discussing orders with "about 50 big companies"
in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon,
Jordan, Egypt and Indonesia. Zamzam is sweeter than Coke and has
a built-in appeal for Muslims because it takes its name from a holy
spring in Saudi Arabia.
The boycott is being urged across the Middle East and North Africa
by Muslim preachers, students, intellectuals and -- in Saudi Arabia,
a main U.S. ally -- even some advisers to the Saudi king. The appeal
is delivered inmosque sermons, leaflets and Internet sites.
It's difficult to say how hard American companies are being hit
by the boycott -- and how much of the economic pain is inflicted
on Arab businesses selling U.S. products.
Of the six McDonald's franchises in Jordan, two have closed for
lack of business -- one in the capital Amman and one near a Palestinian
refugee camp. In Morocco, a government official who asked not to
be identified estimated sales of Coca Cola could fall by half in
the country's north, a base for Islamic groups. In the United Arab
Emirates, sales of the local Star Cola are up by 40 percent in the
past three months.
In Dubai, business appears to be down at such American fast food
chains as McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hardee's, and up
at local restaurants. In Saudi Arabia -- in a sign of concern at
the boycott's effect -- prices have been cut up to 50 percent on
some U.S. imports and ads for fast food franchises point out they
are Arab owned and managed.
Respected Muslim cleric Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi issued a religious
ruling in the Gulf state of Qatar saying American products should
be viewed like Israeli products -- which have long been banned in
the Arab world. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, mosque preacher Sheik Omar
bin Saeed al-Badna argued the boycott would be good for the kingdom's
"Boycotting American food and drinks means more business for
Saudi, Lebanese and other restaurants, as well as local producers
of soft drinks. This will be good for the majority of Saudis,"
The boycott's effect is not that simple, however, according to
economists and government officials. They say the action against
American products harms local business, franchisees and employees
-- but has little impact on mother companies in the United States.
"Most of the companies that people consider American are multinational
and those who own them are Arabs," said economist Suleiman
al-Mazrouei of Emirates International Bank.
Coca Cola officials said Coke's Middle East operations are run
by Arab workers and executives and get materials from local suppliers.
"We, for example, have a bottling partner in the Palestinian
Authority area which employs about 320 people. So we are one of
the largest employers in the Palestinian Authority area," said
Steve LeRoy, Coke's communications director for Central Europe,
Eurasia and the Middle East.
LeRoy said Coke was affected by the boycott, but refused to say
how much. The international headquarters of McDonald's and Hardee's
did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Samer Tawil, director general of Jordan's Ministry of Trade and
Industry, said the effect of the boycott spreads beyond boycotted
companies to their workers -- who could lose jobs -- and to their
investors, who in Jordan are mostly Jordanians.
In the Emirates, an official at the U.S. Embassy said it was "local
agents, sponsors, and distributors and particularly franchise owners"
who were being hurt. The official, who asked not to be identified,
said the boycott could discourage foreign investment in the region.
The boycott is not related to the Arab League boycott of companies
that do business with Israel, which has largely ended. U.S. laws
ban Americans from obeying the Arab League boycott, but no similar
measure covers the grass-roots campaign against U.S. products.
The boycott is under way in such strong U.S. allies as Egypt, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Jordan became the first Arab
country and fourth overall to sign a free trade agreement with the
United States. Under the agreement, tariffs on bilateral trade will
be gradually eased until they are almost completely scrapped in
In Morocco, U.S.-linked companies were losing business from the
boycott even as the country's king, Mohammed VI, was assured during
an April meeting in Washington that U.S. President George W. Bush
would promote a free-trade agreement with Morocco.
Critics also say boycott advocates are proposing a simple answer
to a complex problem.
Jordanian economist Fahd Fanek said Arabs who find it easy to boycott
American soft drinks and fast food joints would likely balk at doing
without "American medicines, airplanes and the Internet"
as well as American university education for their children.
One backer of the boycott is Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Mohammed
Hussein Fadlallah, who had his U.S. assets frozen in 1995 as part
of an anti-terrorism campaign because he wielded influence over
the Hezbollah, a militant anti-Israeli group considered a terrorist
organization by the United States.
Fadlallah has issued a religious edict urging a boycott of U.S.
goods but acknowledges the weapon is imperfect.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, he said exceptions
to the boycott ruling could be made for necessities and U.S.-made
products that cannot be replaced with goods from other countries.
He listed one such exception as buying or selling in the U.S. dollar,
noting "Lebanon's economy is based on the dollar."