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Arab anger triggers boycott of
Starbucks and Pepsi

By Andrew Gumbel
11 May 2002,

An informal boycott of American goods is gaining momentum in the Arab world, leading to a drastic drop-off in business for fast-food outlets, Starbucks coffee shops and basic groceries from Pepsi to Pampers.

Driven by anger at US support for Israel's military incursions into the West Bank, the boycott is taking on dimensions unseen since the Arab League embargo on companies trading with Israel trailed off in the early 1990s, according to a report in yesterday's New York Times.

The call is going out in mosques, on the street and over the internet, and lists are circulating in many countries to suggest alternatives to popular American brands. One list mistakenly says Domino's Pizza is non- American, presumably due to its Italian-sounding name.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric with a show on the Qatari al-Jazeera television channel, has a banner on his website reading: "Boycott America, from Pepsi cans to Boeing." In Damascus, billboards show scenes of devastation in the Jenin refugee camp, with the slogan in Arabic and English: "Boycott American products: Don't be an accomplice."

One supermarket chain in Bahrain has already replaced about 1,000 US products on its shelves. In Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, a bomb exploded in an empty Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on Thursday. Nobody was hurt.

Some of the anti-American ardour has been fuelled by rumours, such as the widely circulated but untrue tale that McDonald's is donating a percentage of the cost of every meal to Israel. A pro-Israeli speech by Starbucks' chief executive, Howard Schultz, led to a wave of anger at the coffee chain, although it is so popular in Arab capitals that custom has diminished only slightly.

However, there is only so much commercial harm even a complete boycott could do since US exports to the Arab world account for just 2.5 per cent of its trade revenue. Nevertheless, analysts cited by The New York Times said sales of fast food and other consumer items were down by 20-30 per cent.