Arab States Aim to Hit U.S. In the Pocketbook

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Arab nations, condemning Israel for its reaction to the Palestinian uprising, have begun to direct their anger towards U.S. interests for what is perceived as Washington's pro-Israel bias. They are aiming to hit the U.S. where they think it will count the most: in the pocket book.

Muslim clerics, intellectuals and grass-roots organizations in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Morocco and Gulf Arab states have been calling for a general boycott of U.S. goods and services.

However, at least two local operators of American enterprises in the Middle East have tried to circumvent the boycotts by pledging assistance to the Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

There has been no apparent reaction from Washington on the matter.

Official Palestinian Authority television called for a "Day of Confrontation With U.S. Interests" recently. Among other things, Palestinians were called upon "to boycott American products and denounce its policies in the region."

In Egypt, grand mufti Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel and state-appointed Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, regarded as the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the world, both appealed for the ban.

The import of any U.S. or Israeli goods is "sinful," declared Wassel, responsible for issuing Islamic fatwas (decrees).

"It's the lowest form of jihad [holy war] for us Muslims who can't just go and liberate Al Aqsa mosque," Wassel was quoted as saying.

Arab states have strongly condemned Israel for its handling of what the Palestinians are calling the Al-Aqsa intifadah (uprising), named for the mosque on the Temple Mount.

Clashes erupted on the Temple Mount, known to Moslems as the Haram al-Shariff, on September 28 after the visit of the opposition leader in the Israeli parliament. Although the visit was planned in advance to a site under Israeli security control, Palestinian rioting broke out, starting a downward spiral of violent events.

Since then nearly 300 people have been killed throughout disputed territories, most of them Palestinians. The PA has accused Israel of using excessive force in quelling the riots.

Also in Egypt, a group of intellectuals calling themselves the "popular committee for boycotting American and Israeli products," has already blacklisted seven popular companies: McDonald's fast food restaurants, Coca Cola beverages, Marlboro cigarettes, Levi's jeans, Nike sportswear, Ariel laundry detergent and British-owned Sainsbury.

Similar boycotts were reportedly declared earlier in Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco.

In Yemen, more than 500 activists of the opposition Islamist Islah party (Yemen Socialist party) as well as trade unions launched a boycott in the capital just before Ramadan.

However, although there were public calls for boycotts in Gulf States, governments there are not expected to follow suit, due to the heavy U.S. involvement there. Fast food chains and shopping malls particularly all distinctly resemble their U.S. counterparts.

McDonald's restaurants in Saudi Arabia and the Pepsico franchisee bottler in Qatar have both tried to circumvent the boycotts by promising that a percentage of proceeds will be contributed to the Palestinian cause.

In Saudi Arabia, $.26 from each McDonald's meal sold was pledged to Palestinian children injured in the uprising. Thousands have been injured thus far.
Nearby in Qatar, Ali Bin Ali pledged to contribute 0.10 riyal ($0.03) for every pop-top or bottle cap collected by volunteers from its soft drink containers.
ABA chairman, Adel Ali Bin Ali, said that the drive would be publicized in an advertising campaign and was expected to raise up to 500,000 riyals ($137,000).
"We will make sure that every riyal reaches the poor Palestinians," Bin Ali was quoted as saying.

Local managers and franchisee holders have complained that the boycott is not likely to have a significant impact on the income of the big corporations but could put many locals, employed by the firms, out of work.

Some analysts say it could also spark a revival of the Arab boycott, which Arab states maintained for decades against companies, which did business with Israel. That boycott was finally broken in the early nineties with the advent of the Middle East peace process.