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Anti-Boycott article from Saudi:

US boycott: Follow your head, not your heart

By Mohammed Al-Khereiji,
Arab News Staff,
JEDDAH, 8 May 2002

Seventeen-year-old Ali, a Saudi wearing a Palestine keffiya loosely over his shoulders, was standing outside a popular supermarket here yesterday handing out flyers to passers-by and shoppers, despite the fact that this activity is strictly illegal here in the Kingdom.

"I’m supporting the US boycott," he told Arab News. "We all have to do something."

But something else was not quite right.

Why were his other clothes proudly displaying American brand names? And why was Ali wearing his baggy jeans halfway down his back, as though he were an African-American youth?

Ali refused to answer these questions, and then became visibly angry when pressed.

It would be easy to excuse Ali and his friends as naïve youths trying to do the right thing.

The problem is that the argument against his actions — and those of the estimated millions of other Saudis currently engaged in the campaign to boycott US products — is not only that of hypocrisy.

They may in fact be undermining their own domestic economy — a dangerous game when economic strength is the only guarantee of diplomatic leverage on the world stage.

Hashim Yamani, minister of electricity and industry, yesterday called on those pushing for a boycott of US products to consider the negative effects on local investors.

The fact is that American and other foreign participation in enterprises producing US products, like Pepsi, provides the know how and the latest technology, thus allowing Saudi-based factories to produce goods that can compete both locally and internationally.

This generates for the Saudi economy some $21.3 billion annually, much of which would otherwise be spent on imports.

Then there is the question of the possible negative effects of the boycott on Saudi Arabia’s international image as negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) reach their final stages. It should be a matter of concern that even if it amounts mostly to words rather than actions, the boycott may scare off potential foreign investors just when the Saudi government is trying to attract them with a range of new incentives.

If even a small number of potential Saudi investors did indeed start to look elsewhere, the consequences for the Saudi economy — diversifying under pressure from globalization and a huge budget deficit — could be significant.

This is not idle speculation.

Al-Watan reported yesterday that the sale of US food and consumer products is down a staggering 25 percent.

Surveys consistently reveal that since the Israeli war on the Palestinians entered its most barbaric stage, some 30 percent of Saudi consumers no longer feel comfortable when purchasing US products.

They are routinely inquiring about where particular products are from. They want to know if it is American; and, if that turns out to be true, they are putting it straight back onto the supermarket shelves.

But if history has taught us anything, it is that boycotts — even if not harmful to those carrying them out — just do not work. Look at Cuba. It has been suffering the longest boycott ever. Is Castro not still in power?

As in any other area of life, crude generalizations merely simplify matters. What needs to be engaged in is the hard reality on the ground, rather than lofty principles.

Consider how, in November 2000, McDonalds — now bearing the brunt of the anti-US campaign — was the only fast food chain working to help the Palestinian cause.

During the holy month of Ramadan, it donated 26 cents from each meal to Palestinian children’s hospitals.

What exactly is haram about that?

It would appear that there is anyway widespread ignorance here in the Kingdom about how franchises actually operate. The franchisee allows the use of its trading name and secures an agreement that their standards and practices will be abided by. In return, franchiser pays a fee, and then reaps most of the profits — all of which helps boost the local economy.

So a stand against McDonalds is in effect nothing less than a deliberate undermining of the domestic economy.

But Ali and his well-meaning friends are too busy handing out flyers to listen to why their doing so is ruining their chances of securing a good job more than it will ever help their Palestinian brothers.


Ignoring your total misrepresentation of the effect of multinationals in developing countries, permit us just one question:

During the 54 years of occupation, Palestinian children have lived through many Ramadan's. How many of those Ramadan's before McDonalds was targeted, did the children receive 26 cents from each meal McDonalds sold?

If the answer is none, then this is an example of the boycott working - not in theory but in reality on the ground making a difference.

Ali, continue giving out your flyers, we salute your work, freedom for Palestine come closer with every boycott flyer you give out.