Saudi Internet campaign to boycott US firms

Saudi Internet campaign to boycott US firms over Israeli assault on Gaza gathers momentum.

RIYADH - An Internet campaign in Saudi Arabia for a boycott of US businesses over Washington's support of the Israeli assault on Gaza gathered force Monday as a new website tied to a conservative cleric promoted the movement.

For days the calls to stop patronizing popular US brands like McDonalds, Pepsi, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chili's have spread through viral emails and SMS messages, with no apparent sponsor or backer of the campaign.Some singled out Starbucks and cigarette maker Philip Morris for allegedly supporting Israel, and called on Saudi consumers to stop buying their products.

"If you cannot donate money for Gaza, at least stop buying the products of these brands," said one email."

On Sunday a new website dedicated to promoting the boycott was launched with the support of prominent cleric Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, who was recently arrested for calling for attacks on Israelis everywhere after it launched its war on Gaza.The website asked people to stay away from US brands until Israel stops its attacks and opens all border crossings for the territory."Let our enemy see we can teach them a hard lesson," it said.Many Saudis said they had received the emails and text messages about the boycott.

Teacher Said al-Qahtani said he was backing the campaign "to change US bias toward Israel and against the Arabs."A student at King Saud University who did not want to be identified said he and his friends stopped eating their lunches at the campus McDonalds."This boycott is popular among university students," he said."We have seen a downturn," one Starbucks manager said, noting that the group has experienced such actions before, like when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

Concerned about talk of a boycott, on January 5 the Starbucks headquarters in the United States issued a statement denying it was supporting Israel in the conflict."Starbucks is a non-political organization and does not support political causes. Further, the political preferences of a Starbucks partner at any level have absolutely no bearing on Starbucks company policies," it said.Many Saudis are angry about Israel's two-week-old campaign against Gaza, which has left nearly 900 Palestinians dead, but are frustrated over the few outlets available to express their feelings.


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