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Mideast Street Anger Turns into Calls for Boycott of U.S. Goods

by N Janardhan
Inter Press Service
April 22, 2002

DUBAI, Apr 22 - The university cafeteria at the University of Sharjah has stopped selling softdrinks manufactured by U.S. multinationals, and instead stocks other beverages produced in the country or region.

The American economy is îsurviving on Arab money, which is used to supply the Israelis with monetary and military assistance to kill the Palestinians who are resisting the occupation for 50 years,'' Nawal Jasim, head of the Women Students' Union at the university, said in explaining the boycott.

îIf the Arab governments do not boycott American goods, we believe it is our responsibility to take the initiative,'' Jasim added in an interview. ''We are a billion Muslims and imagine how much the U.S. economy would be affected if each of us boycott a softdrink can or all American products.''

Lebanese students hold a sit-in at a Burger King fast food restaurant as part of a campaign to boycott American products, in Beirut April 15, 2002. A growing number of Lebanese have begun boycotting U.S. brands and products since Israel began its onslaught against Palestinian areas more two weeks ago. They are protesting against U.S.-backing for the Jewish state. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

These moves for a boycott, amid the Israeli offensive against Palestinian areas for weeks now, are triggering a people's revolution of a kind rarely seen before in the region.

They reflect how the angry political calls in the Arab street for Israel's withdrawal are fast turning into a search for an economic threat against Washington, in order to force a policy shift by the United States.

Unlike the rhetoric of Arab governments, people in the region are resorting to taking action at their level by boycotting U.S.-made products - thus, UAE journalists are organizing a boycott conference, some Lebanese have begun turning their backs away from American products like cigarettes.

Some have gone as far as calling for a repudiation of the U.S. dollar in international trade.

îI have never seen the streets in the Gulf filled with so much hatred and anger as they have been in the past fortnight. The situation is reaching boiling point,'' said Dr Saeed Hareb, professor of law at the UAE University.

îThe striking feature of the demonstrations is that the initiatives have been taken not by the governments, but by students as a collective group and by individuals out of their own choice,î he said in an interview.

Last week, the UAE Journalists' Association announced that a national committee for boycotting American goods would be formed in cooperation with public welfare societies and civil society organizations.

In a statement, Dr Aisha al-Nuaimi, a member of the association, urged the government to support the first boycott conference on May 13-14.

Anas Al Zaibaq, a Syrian marketing representative working for a private company in the UAE, said: îSince the United States has been supporting Israel in its crime, we as Arabs must put pressure on it by boycotting its products.î

A war on the economic front is one language the materialistic West understands, he argues.

îMany people, including me, have boycotted American products and this has driven most American franchisers in the Arab world to think of alternatives to boost sales, implying that losses are being suffered,î Zaibaq said in an interview.

The first of the demands for the boycott of American products in the region came surprisingly from Bahrain, a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally of the United States and where its navy's Fifth Fleet is now positioned.

Anti-Israel and anti-U.S. graffiti reportedly began appearing there about two weeks ago.

So far, the rallying calls have not just been for boycotting American goods, but: îwe want the government to close the U.S. embassy and the military bases,î according to Manama's 'Akhbar Al Khaleej' newspaper.

A group of people even managed to break through a U.S. Embassy compound wall, damaging windowpanes and setting at least three cars on fire, leading the King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa to warn Washington that the U.S. interests in the region were in jeopardy if it did not alter its Middle East stance.

Apart from the Gulf, Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq have also witnessed îboycottî calls.

American cigarettes became the first casualty of such calls in Lebanon. îThe price of a packet of American cigarettes is equal to the price of a bullet that will be targeted at the Palestinian people,î said a leaflet distributed by university students in Beirut recently, according to the local 'Gulf News' newspaper.

Lists of Lebanese, Arab, European and Asian products have been distributed to houses as alternatives, resulting in the îsale of American cigarettes going down by half'', it added.

Addressing a rally of 2,000 Iraqi students protesting Israel's military offensive in the West Bank, ruling Baath Party official Huda Saleh Mehdi Ammash urged Arabs to convert their demonstrations into action.

îBoycott American companies that support the Zionist entity (Israel) and take other initiatives that convert emotions to an effective Arab action in defense of our just cause of Palestine,î she was quoted as saying in the UAE's 'The Gulf Today' newspaper on Sunday.

The same day, 'Akhbar Al Arab' newspaper proposed in an editorial that the Gulf countries stop pegging their currencies to the U.S. Dollar

îWhat is required is to delink from the dollar ... and stop supporting this currency so that it no longer dominates international markets while it is effectively a weapon directed against the Arabs, their rights and their interests,'' it said.

Last week, the Moroccan newspaper 'L'Economiste' suggested that the dollar be ditched in trade dealings and the euro be used instead, following the lead of Iraq, which last year switched its foreign commercial dealings to the euro.

But Dr Ali Ahmed Al Ghafli of the American University of Sharjah advises caution amid the height of emotion and anger.

He recommends that economy and politics function independently and that one should not be used to influence the other, lest it hurt the Gulf and Middle itself.

îArabs have not yet exhausted all the political options to solve this political problem which can take them out of the frying pan (implying the severance of Jordan's and Egypt's ties with Israel which would put the U.S. under pressure),'' he said in an interview.

''Opting for the economic weapon may prove counterproductive given the region's reliance on Western products. There is no logic in jumping from the frying pan into the fire,î he explained.

But for some, calling for boycotts makes them feel less helpless than standing by as the Israeli offensive continues.

At a rally last week, for instance, Nawal Jasim of the University of Sharjah was busy calling on cooperative societies and foodstuff dealers in the country to instantly provide alternatives to American products to help a national boycott effort.