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Arab Boycott Affecting US,
Though its Cause is Not Understood

By Barbara Ferguson
Arab News
9 July 2002


WASHINGTON: The Arab boycott is reverberating throughout the United States, but the reason for the boycott — US sympathy and support to Israel — appears to continue to be ignored.

The terrorism attacks of Sept. 11 also deeply effected US-Arab tourism, education and trade, which once strengthened ties between the US and the Arab world, despite quarrels over US support for Israel and other foreign affair disputes.

The Saudis, for example, used to flock to Disney World on Saudi Arabia Airlines’ weekly flights from Jeddah to Orlando. Now demand has evaporated and the flights have been canceled.
Visa applications to the US have also fallen, especially after stringent background checks that take up to three weeks were introduced for visa applicants from certain Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Even without scrapping over US visas, the Arab-US boycott has taken a significant toll. Trade between the United States and Arab counties is said to be down by at least 25 percent since last year.

“Economists say it is hard to determine accurately how much of the decline can be attributed to such international factors as exchange rates and the price of oil, but there is extensive anecdotal evidence that the boycott has taken a toll,” wrote Howard Schneider in yesterday’s Washington Post.

The Post says the boycott has “cost soft drink companies and fast food franchises 40 percent or more of their business in the Arab world, and left some companies, including Procter & Gamble, with serious branding problems.”

The company lost a reported 60 percent of its sales of Ariel detergent — because its name is the same as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Coke and Pepsi are doing their best to overcome the boycott. Both launched aggressive marketing campaigns during the World Cup to regain their markets, and the effort is reported to be making headway.

American universities are also hoping that Arab enrollment would be up this fall, but hopes appear to be falling flat. “No one has registered,” said Sohair Saad, educational information director at the Washington-based training group Amideast. Students, she said, are expressing less and less interest in studying in the United States, and many are said to turning their sites to educational opportunities in Canada.

“We’re scared of them, they are scared of us,” Saad says. “This is very unfortunate.”

Attempts are being made to counteract the damage. The State Department is working to change the US image in the Arab world, and has recently launched a new Arabic-language pop radio station.

In an effort to restore relations business and travel between the two countries, the US Embassy in Riyadh recently launched a “Go-2-USA” website.

Alas, despite genuine efforts to bridge the gap, is easy to view these attempts as mere band-aids that cannot heal the real problem: American’s continuing one-sided support for Israel.

“The reality is that there is going to be an economic effect” by limiting trade, academic and other ties that thrived before Sept. 11, said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, but it is a cost which he said Americans accepted in return for better security.