January 17, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7284

Saudi Journalist: Boycotting American Products May Boomerang On Arabs

January 17, 2018
Saudi Arabia, Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 7284

In an article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, economist Dr. 'Abdallah Al-Radadi opposed the calls to boycott American products and companies in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He wrote that boycotts often yield the opposite results from those intended: they help to advertise and increase the popularity and the sales of the thing boycotted. In some cases, he added, they even end up harming the boycotters, as in the case of Arab boycotts on American companies that harmed the livelihood of Arabs workers or franchise holders. He noted that the importance of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa for the Arabs and Muslims cannot be overstated, but a boycott will not help Jerusalem but only hurt Muslims.

The following are excerpts from his article:[1]

'Abdallah Al-Radadi (image: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London)

"The minute U.S. President Donald Trump announced [his] recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, some activists on social media rushed to market [the idea] of a boycott of American products. The calls started with simple tweets, and developed into infographics presenting well-known American brands like McDonald's, Coca Cola, Burger King and others.

"First of all, let me state that the importance ascribed by Muslims to [Al-Aqsa,] the third most holy mosque after those in Mecca and Medina, and to [Jerusalem], the first direction of prayer, cannot be overstated. Jerusalem has been an Arab capital ever since it was first conquered in 637 by Al-Farouq, 'Umar bin al-Khattab [the second Caliph, who ruled in 634-644]... Muslim blood is a small price to pay for Jerusalem, and it is naïve to think that any Muslim will prioritize a hamburger over Jerusalem.

"[But] as for a boycott of American products, I wonder if it is economically effective. Who will really be hurt by such as boycott, and who will benefit from it? Past economic boycotts have been imposed with a particular intent, only to achieve the opposite effect, as shown by the following examples:

"1. The 2005 boycott of the American fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch by a U.S. women's rights organization, in protest over [a line of] clothing printed with slogans that were deemed to be misogynist and to promote the image of women as brainless bodies. After a month of protests, the company announced that the line would be pulled from the stores. The women's rights organization thought that the boycott had been successful, but reports later revealed that the retailer had announced the termination of the line only after all the clothes had been sold, and that the boycott had actually provided it with free advertising and had boosted its sales in a way that no [commercial] advertising campaign could have done.

"2. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, held in the USSR. Then U.S. president Jimmy Carter announced that his country would not participate in the Olympics unless the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. But the biggest loser was the American television network NBC, who had purchased the broadcast rights for the Olympics for a sum of $85 million, $61 million of which went to the Russians, who certainly never paid it back to NBC. Moreover, in response to this [boycott], the Russians boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The biggest loser in that case was the American company McDonald's, which announced it would hand out free meals whenever an American athlete won a gold medal. Since the USSR and its ally East Germany were boycotting the games, most of the gold medals were won by American athletes, causing McDonald's to suffer huge losses.

"3. A third event, closer to home, involved the Saudi food and dairy company Sadafco in the middle of the last decade. Some people associated this company with the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published in the Danish press, [because they mistakenly thought it to be a Danish company], and launched numerous boycott campaigns against it as part of the general boycott of Danish products.  This caused the company big losses. Despite issuing countless announcements that its owners were Saudi and from the Gulf, the boycott continued, forcing the company to cut down its activity and fire many of its Saudi workers, most of whom were Arab Muslims and some of whom did not even know the capital of Denmark... Whether the association [of the company with Denmark] was justified or not, the main victims of the boycott were the company's [Saudi] workers... and its Gulf-based owners... Moreover, some of the largest [Saudi] retailers proudly announced back then that they had stopped selling Sadafco's products, which shows how this commercial boycott was exploited... when it was originally intended to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

"Commercial players often take advantage of people's feelings about critical issues to promote their business. Some will not hesitate to exploit any cause, no matter how sensitive, to increase their sales and profits. We should wisely distinguish between those who wish to impose a boycott out of fervor for Jerusalem and those who do it to further their business. As for the attempt to market [the idea] that the U.S. would be hurt by the boycott of a few American products, it is pretty naïve. Not because the U.S. is a superpower that will not be hurt by such a boycott, but because most of the franchise holders for U.S. companies in the Arab world are Arab investors; moreover, some of these companies are fully owned by Arabs or Muslims, so the ones to suffer most from such an ill-conceived boycott will be the Muslims themselves. It will not help Jerusalem but deprive Muslims of their livelihood."


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 18, 2017.

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