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Comment: wimpy pro-imperialist article quote at the end (see box) is good however.


Anti-U.S. boycott could miss the target

By Cam McGrath
Inter Press Service (IPS)
May 9, 2002


Moves to boycott American goods in Egypt could end up hurting Egyptian businesses more than American interests.

Egyptians are beginning to boycott U.S. brand names in a bid to support the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli occupation.

''We must do more for the Palestinians,'' says taxi driver Mohammed Ali Rizqallah. ''Either we go to war with Israel or we use the economic weapon. We are trying the second one, but if it doesn't work, we will be forced to use the other.''

A boycott of Israeli products is already in effect. The government has severed all ties with Israel except those diplomatic links that help the Palestinian cause.

Trade organisations like the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce (FECC) have warned they will expel any members caught doing business with Israel. Pharmacists, farmers and dock workers have refused to handle Israeli products.

The boycott is unlikely to harm Israel. ''The amount of trade with Israel is tiny, so cutting economic relations is not really a big issue,'' Samiha Fawzy, lead economist at the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES) told IPS. A boycott, she says, ''is more of a moral or spiritual thing.''

Aware of the ineffectiveness of boycotting Israeli goods, Egyptians have turned their attention to American businesses. Many say that a change of consumer habits can force U.S. policymakers to rethink their support of Israel.

''Boycott a product, save a Muslim,'' reads a poster at a Cairo supermarket.

Lists of American brand names are circulating in Egypt and other Arab countries. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes are prime targets. Many Egyptians have given up these brands in favour of local alternatives and pressured their friends and colleagues to do the same.

Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia recently found itself in the category of ''foreign companies supporting Zionism'' after it announced plans to upgrade Israel's cellular network.

''The huge Finnish telecoms giant is Israel's hireling, helping to occupy territory and kill Palestinians,'' wrote Moustafa Bakri, editor-in-chief of Al-Isbou weekly magazine.

But the boycott campaign is largely missing its mark and hurting local businesses instead. An estimated 75,000 Egyptians are employed in foreign brand-name franchises, many of which are Arab owned. Many of these operate under licence using local raw materials and labour. The boycott -- and in some cases acts of vandalism -- only end up hurting Egypt's economy.


''Unemployment exists
in Egypt with or without
a boycott.
Every job taken
from an American firm
will create an opportunity
for an Egyptian
or Arab firm"

The 562 American fast food franchises in Egypt are the most visible targets. They are seeing a sharp decline in business. Several McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets have been vandalised during fiery demonstrations.

The Egyptian firm Manfoods holds a 40 per cent stake in McDonald's Egypt, and the Orascom Group holds another 20 per cent. The companies deny they are donating a part of their profits to Israel. They said such allegations threaten ''the future and source of income of over 3,000 Egyptian workers.''

The Kuwait-based firm Americana, which holds the licences to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Baskin & Robbins outlets in Egypt, has reported a sales drop of 40 per cent since April. Company representatives say that the restaurant names may be American, but everything else -- capital, labour and raw materials -- is Egyptian.

''We must be careful to distinguish between American brand names produced in Egypt (under licence) and products imported from the U.S. so as to maximise the economic impact on America while minimising its effect on us,'' says Hassan, a Cairo University student planning a scaled-down boycott of select U.S. firms.

Activist Manal Khaled says there is no distinction. Any American company is fair game, she says, and Egyptian workers displaced by a boycott should look at the bigger picture.

''Unemployment exists in Egypt with or without a boycott,'' she says. Every job taken from an American firm will create an opportunity for an Egyptian or Arab firm, she says.