Yet another boycott

Sarah El Sirgany
5 Min Read

Time will tell if calls for a U.S. boycott will find support

CAIRO: If you can t buy a bullet for the resistance, don t pay for one for the Jews, reads an Internet advert calling for a boycott on American products as it flashes the logos of many fast food chains and well-known consumer goods.

Other slogans carrying the same message can be found on posters and stickers around town, mass e-mails and SMS messages.

It is not the first of its kind. Similar boycott campaigns have been launched on a public level with every perceived escalation of American or Israeli aggression in the region, including the American war on Iraq in 2003. This time, U.S. support for Israel has propelled yet another campaign into people’s minds.

One Internet advert shows money, weapons and an American veto on UN resolutions, passing from an American flag to an Israeli one and then directed toward the destruction of the Middle East. This is why we boycott, reads the advert.

Lists of American products, whether imported or manufactured in Arab countries, are available for those interested in participating.

Considered a strategic weapon in the hands of consumer economies, the boycott was also used in the wake of the Danish cartoon crisis that left Arabs and Muslims around the world offended by the drawings that depicted Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) as a terrorist.

During the crisis, the boycott reportedly caused sizable losses for Danish producers and relatively low losses to Egyptian retail stores. But that boycott was supported by major businesses. Both retail chains Metro and Carrefour pulled Danish products from the shelves with banners announcing their corporate decision.

This time around the calls don’t have the same corporate support. Products mentioned on the boycott lists haven t been removed from shelves.

Additionally, the government has declared an anti-boycott stance this time. Boycotts have negative effects on the economy of any country. There is no unilateral boycott. It will be met with a boycott from the other side, which will affect the economy and investment, says National Democratic Party Secretary General Safwat El-Sherif, quoting President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak s reference includes political ties and is in line with his previous statements that indicated Egypt wouldn’t use its strategic weapons or army in solving the conflict. But the economic affects, or rather side effects, of boycott campaigns have always been a topic for debate on the public level and among economists.

While the previous boycott of American products in 2003 coincided with a noticeable flourish in Arab-owned fast food chains, a clear correlation isn t available.

On the other hand, economists have long expressed their skepticism over the process. Citing the relative weakness of Arab and Egyptian economies in comparison to those of the West, boycotts are seen as an unwise decision. A boycott of American products is even more difficult, not just because of the economic side effects but because of the proliferation of American products and product components in the local economy.

On the same note, many have voiced confusion; if they are boycotting American products due to U.S. support of Israel, shouldn t they be boycotting others for the same reason? The confusion mushrooms with the accusations regarding what Arab countries are receiving for their collaboration with the U.S. and Israel. And if indeed, all U.S. and Israel supporters are to be boycotted, what products are left for consumption? Could the economy sustain itself with such a wide embargo?

Boycotting as a strategic weapon becomes futile if used too often, according to many commentators, who called for an end to the boycott of Danish products while its effects were still raging.

Thus, it is still not clear whether another boycott campaign would find wide support or make a policy-changing impact on the ongoing conflict.

Some people find it hard to part with their favorite soft drink, fast food sandwich or cigarette brand and claim that the boycott won’t lead to any policy changes. Others are frustrated with the passivity of Arab governments in ending the aggression on Lebanon to the point where boycotting gives them the satisfaction that they are doing something positive. There might not be tangible or immediate effects, there might be even negative effects on the local economy, but for many people boycotting is much better than passively watching the frustrating newscasts on television.

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