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‘Boycott US’ campaign affecting Saudi businesses

The 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 29.

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 added.

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