WHEN school’s over, Najeeb Atallah, 10, and a couple of friends head for the
local McDonald’s in Amman to picket their classmates.
Two branches of the chain have closed in the region and some staff have left
their jobs, fearful of local reprisals. What began two years ago as a low-key
protest against US support for Israel has developed into a sustained campaign
against America’s best known brands. Threats of a conflict in Iraq have given
further impetus to the economic boycott. Fast food outlets, toy makers, drink
and cosmetics companies, and even Disneyland, are feeling the squeeze.
Muslim clerics call for a boycott during Friday prayers, religious and political
leaders have gone on television in Saudi Arabia to support the anti-US protests.
Leaflets are handed out listing brands to boycott, and there are thousands of
protest calls on the internet.
Trade between the US and Arab countries is said to be down by at least 25 per
cent since last year. Some economists argue that this is mainly due to the price
of oil and exchange rates, but the boycott is taking its toll. Leading soft drinks
companies and fast food chains have reported a drop in business of 25 to 40 per
cent in the Arab world.
In Saudi Arabia, prices of US imports have been cut by half to tempt local
people. There have been sit-in protests at branches of Burger King and McDonald’s
in Beirut, while outlets have been vandalized in Bahrain and Oman. Coca-Cola’s
plant in south India has been bombed and so has a branch of KFC in Tripoli.
On the streets of Cairo there are leaflets circulating urging a boycott of
McDonald’s and Burger King, Tide and Ariel detergents, Pampers nappies, Coca-Cola
and Pepsi, Marlboro cigarettes and Heinz ketchup.
Protest organizers in Lebanon have targeted multinationals such as Johnson
& Johnson, Philip Morris (cigarettes and food products), L’Oréal (cosmetics),
Nestlé, Timberland, Estée Lauder (cosmetics), Hasbro (toys) and Sara Lee.
Supermarkets serving the 250 million-strong Arab consumer market say everything
from breakfast cereals to American cigarettes is being left on the shelf.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.