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Boycott of French Products: Who Punishes Whom?

Boycott of France products and goods my regional parties in the middle east and north africa
A picture shows an empty French cosmetics and perfume stand in Kuwait City on October 28, 2020, as part of a boycott of French products in protest of cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Mohamed published in the French media. Source: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/ AFP.

Adel Mojahed

A statement that has been taken out of context from a speech made by the French President Emmanuel Macron was enough to set recently a storm of calls in the Middle East to boycott French products. Macron was defending what he considers a vital value for his country’s democracy; namely freedom of opinion and expression. Yet the regional powers and the political Islam groups have taken advantage of these statements to exacerbate the situation.

In line with the efforts exerted to regain its “lost empire”, Turkey faces widespread Arab campaigns to boycott its products. These campaigns have been formulated due to Turkey’s military interventions in many Arab countries, in addition to sponsoring some radical trends of Sunni Islam and providing a logistic support for other trends. Turkey has been subjected to international criticism and restlessness due to its harassment in the eastern Mediterranean. The same applies to its recent interference to escalate the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Nevertheless, the “heir of the Ottoman empire” used the French president’s statements to push the Middle East towards boycotting France.

It might be a misfortune for the French that their president’s statements regarding the offensive cartoons and the murder of the French teacher coincided with the approaching anniversary of Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. During preparing for the annual celebrations among Muslims, the general mood is fraught with prejudice and fear of “Islamophobia”. This has prompted the political wings of radical Islamist trends to launch parallel calls to boycott French products, taking by this advantage of the prevailing popular mood.

Nevertheless, many questions come in mind. One of them is the following: Will the calls for a Middle Eastern boycott of French products succeed? This question should be dealt with while keeping in mind the prudent and wise manner with which the religious and the governmental institutions deal with such a situation in the region. For example, the two main religious institutions in the region – Al-Azhar Al-Sharif Foundation and the Saudi Dar Al-Ifta – condemned the insistence of the French authorities on publishing the offensive cartoons. However, this action has not been accompanied with encouraging a boycott of French products. In addition, most of the region’s governments called for stopping boycott calls; asking people not to be led by what the radical minority says. This stance is based on the negative impact that such calls might come with on the economies of the region’s countries. Furthermore, it is based on the fact that the boycott will lead to losing the relative advantages afforded with the French products, especially in the oil industry, aircraft and other strategic products.

The region has witnessed one of the longest boycott campaigns in its history, supported by almost a complete consensus at the popular and governmental levels when it came to the Israeli products. However, the absolute success of these campaigns cannot be dealt with as if it is a constructive fact. It is true that such calls were based on a long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to the repeated Israeli violations against the Palestinian people, the policies of settlements’ expansion and the intrusion on the rights of the Palestinians. Yet the Israeli products have been able to cross into the Arab region through different ways. Most notably the products were provided by the qualified industrial zones in both Jordan and Egypt. According to the Qualified Industrial Zones agreement that United States signed with both Arab countries, products made in these zones must include Israeli components whose percentage range between 8% and 17% of each product.

Of course, the current situation of trade exchange between France and the Middle Eastern countries is different, either due to the lack of a consensus to boycott at the popular level, or due to the reluctance of the region´s governments to follow such policies towards a country like France; given that these countries have important and historical trade relations with the European country.

According to United Nations sources, the collective French exports to Arab countries were estimated at 30 billion US dollars in 2019. 7 countries acquired about 29 billion dollars of these exports, including Algeria, Morocco and Qatar. Turkish imports from France were estimated at US 7 billion dollars in the same year. Compared to the French imports from these countries, most of the trade scales were tipped against the interests of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

After coming with these numbers, questions should pop out about how the alleged boycott calls for French products will work. And even if we assume that these calls will succeed, another question should immediately come into our mind: who is in this case punishing the other?

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