Mideast could suffer from US brand boycott

WASHINGTON - A grassroots campaign to boycott American companies and American-made goods, though little noticed in the US, is quickly gaining momentum in the Middle East.

WASHINGTON - A grassroots campaign to boycott American companies and American-made goods, though little noticed in the US, is quickly gaining momentum in the Middle East.

A small number of civic institutions and professional associations began pushing the boycott 19 months ago. It took hold with the public with Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian territories, and now a barrage of emails, text messages and pamphlets are rapidly spreading the word throughout the region.

A recent survey showed that 20% of Jordanians are actively supporting the boycott and, according to official US figures, exports to Saudi Arabia plunged by 43% in Q1 of 2002.

Hardest hit are fast-food restaurants such as KFC and McDonald's, and high-profile American brands such as Coca-Cola. But because many of these are locally owned or franchised, the boycott may prove more harmful to local businesses than to the companies themselves -- a fact American companies think the boycotters don't realize.

Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, returned from Dubai last week, where he was advising his clients in the region. WSW has the largest Middle East presence of any American PR agency.

While he is advising for some cases to be kept low-profile, 'In other cases we're suggesting that they respond, and with a lot of facts, such as the fact that in every one of these countries these American companies are locally owned, so the boycott is having an impact on the Arab owners of these franchises. That's not well understood.'

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