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Boycott against Israel gathers steam

Tariq Hassan-Gordon
Middle East Times
18 May 2001


The simmering boycott against Israel picked up steam as two separate actions took place last week. An Egyptian writer refused to have his book published in Israel and the Egyptian pharmaceutical union called for a boycott of a U.S. drug company.

Novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid decided against permitting the progressive Israeli publishing company, Al Andalous, the right to print his book 'No One Sleeps in Alexandria'. Abdel Meguid had originally accepted the request by the publishing company, which has a pro-Palestinian position, but backed out after being criticized by other Egyptian authors.

"Some of them believed it was a form of normalization (of relations) with Israel, so I asked (my local publisher) the American University in Cairo (AUC) to break the contract with the Israeli firm," Abdel Meguid told AFP.

In 1996, Abdel Meguid won AUC's Naguib Mahfouz Prize for his book 'The Other Place'.

In an unrelated move, Egypt's pharmacists' union spoke out on May 12 against the U.S. drug company Eli Lilly and Co. for its support of Jewish Holocaust survivors alleged to be living in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

The company is providing around $50,000 of the drug Zyprexa to treat Holocaust survivors suffering from schizophrenia. A company spokesperson in Washington denied the allegation that the drugs are going to settlers living in illegal settlements.

Despite the company's denial, Mahmoud Abdel Maqsoud, the pharmacists' union secretary general told AFP that the boycott would continue. "If this company is offering aid to Israeli victims of the Holocaust it should also provide aid to Palestinian victims of the Israeli aggression," he said.

When the uprising began last September, Egyptians launched a widespread boycott of Israeli and U.S. companies. At the start of the boycott the Egyptian government withheld support of the grassroots effort, and in November Egyptian Presidential Political Advisor Osama Al Baz said that the boycott of Israeli goods should not come as a government directive.

However, the boycott eventually got Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's approval on December 11 as the intifada showed no signs of slowing down after 10 weeks of violence.

Information Minister Safwat Al Sharif quoted Mubarak as saying at the time, ""The people are right to boycott their (Israeli) goods, but a boycott of European or American goods must be considered in a wider and more general context."

The change in policy may have come in response to the support for the boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and other leading Islamic clerics, some going so far as to say that it is 'haram', prohibited in Islam, to buy goods made in Israel.

Sheikh Al Azhar Muhammad Sayed Tantawi and Grand Mufti Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel support the boycott. Sheikh Wassel, responsible for making Islamic decrees or fatwas, has declared that the importing of U.S. or Israeli goods is sinful.

"It's the lowest form of 'jihad' for us Muslims who can't just go and liberate Al Aqsa mosque" in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, he said last fall.

The Egypt-based Popular Committee for Boycotting American and Israeli Products produced an initial list of seven brand names to be boycotted: MacDonald's fast food, Coca Cola soft drinks, Marlboro cigarettes, Levi's jeans, Nike sportswear, Ariel washing powder and Sainsbury's supermarkets.

Sainsbury's, which is actually British owned, has subsequently pulled out of the Egyptian market, incurring millions of dollars in losses, although the company said its move was not linked to the boycott. Last October, two Sainsbury's stores where vandalized during student demonstrations in support of the Palestinians.

The boycott has gradually turned into a significant movement as Egyptian companies sever their ties with Israel.

The Obour City investors association has a full boycott of Israeli imports. The Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Commerce boycotts Israeli commercial goods.

In the past, Arab governments maintained a long-term boycott of companies that dealt with Israel. The pan-Arab boycott was approved by the Arab League in 1951 and lifted in 1993 after the 1993 Oslo accords were signed.