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Call To Boycott U.S. Products Gains Momentum

Special to the NNPA from IPS
30 May 2002


RABAT, Morocco (IPS)—“They use our money to kill our children in Palestine,” reads an advertisement run by several Moroccan dailies to rally support for a campaign to boycott American products in Morocco.

The advertisement names a large number of United States brands, from Marlboro to McDonald’s, that Moroccans are being called upon to boycott as a sign of rejection of U.S. backing of Israel in the conflict against the Palestinians.

“With the government unable to take a tangible action in favor of Palestine we, as civil society, have the duty to mobilize citizens for a cause that is religiously and nationally central to us,” says Hassan Serrat, a reporter from the Attajdid (Renewal) daily of the party of Justice and Development (PJD).

The PJD is Morocco’s largest Islamist party with 14 seats in the 325-seat House of Representatives (lower chamber of parliament). It has joined with the secular Association of Support to the Struggle of the Palestinian people (AMSLP/independent) to give more momentum to the ongoing campaign.

“The Morocco-based U.S. companies are contributing to Jewish funds,” said Mohamed Yatim, a PJD MP. “We have information that McDonald’s (based in Oak Brook, Ill., near Chicago), for instance, pays substantial assistance to a Chicago-based Jewish charity,” he said.

McDonald’s has been the target of a fierce attack by the pro-boycott activists. In Casablanca and Rabat, customers were reported to have been harassed by young fundamentalists. Officials from McDonald’s Morocco—which has 16 restaurants in the country—say the campaign will probably result in a huge loss in profits for the food chain.

In a bid to counter the campaign, McDonald’s has been running press releases in the Moroccan pro-government press which state: “The Morocco branch operates with Moroccan capital, employs Moroccan youth and abides by the teachings of Islam in terms of food processing.”

Analysts say the Moroccan government is not at ease with the anti-U.S. campaign, although it does not directly intervene to put a halt to it. “Such campaigns could cause much harm to the Moroccan economy, especially since Morocco is trying to shift to a higher gear in its economic and commercial ties with the U.S.,” said a government official who asked for anonymity.

Morocco and the U.S. are scheduled to soon begin negotiations on a free trade zone. The pact, expected to be sealed early next year, will make Morocco the second Arab country after Jordan to have such an agreement with the U.S.

Trade between the two countries did not exceed $972 million, according to 2000 figures.

For Hassan Nraiss, a businessman from Rabat, “the boycott campaign is shortsighted and risks torpedoing Morocco’s efforts to build strong commercial ties with the U.S. The Palestinian cause can be better served diplomatically rather than by blind campaigns of this kind,” he told IPS.

“The boycott campaign may entail some loss for some Moroccan investors who market U.S. brands,” admits Yatim, who concedes that “the harm to the Palestinian cause by selling American products in Morocco is even greater, as much of the money gained here is paid to Israel.”

The campaign seems to have a positive echo with ordinary consumers. “There are many options for U.S. products. I personally check the products before buying,” said one consumer at a supermarket in downtown Rabat.
“People are very staggered by the U.S. backing of Israel. This largely explains the positive response to the campaign,” says Ahmed Rifael, an activist of AMSLP and member of the boycott coordination committee.

“The ultimate goal of the boycott campaign is to make U.S. companies put pressure on their government to change its policy in the Middle East,” he said, adding “the language of money is the easiest language for the Americans to understand.”

The campaign echoes a mounting clamor in other Arab nations for the boycott of U.S. commodities as an expression of anger.

Experts, like Ahmed Chaabi, say that the Arab boycott is considered as the strongest reflection of anger against the U.S. Middle East policy and its “siding with Israel.”

“But we have to be careful in considering the all-out boycott of U.S. products in the Arab countries, whose inter-trade is still short of filling the gap that might result from such a move,” says Chaabi, a U.S.-educated stock exchange expert.

Arab nations import half of their needs from the United States and the European Union, whereas the volume of inter-Arab trade does not exceed $27 billion.