Why McDonald’s, Starbucks and other American brands continue to pay the price of politics in the Middle East

Why McDonald’s, Starbucks and other American brands continue to pay the price of politics in the Middle East
Short Url
Updated 27 October 2023
Follow

Why McDonald’s, Starbucks and other American brands continue to pay the price of politics in the Middle East

Why McDonald’s, Starbucks and other American brands continue to pay the price of politics in the Middle East
  • Campaigners are boycotting US franchises to express solidarity with Gaza and protest against perceived bias
  • Attacks on stores in Lebanon echo similar scenes from the time of the Second Intifada and the Iraq War

RIYADH: Whenever conflicts erupt in the Middle East, American consumer brands are often among the first targets of public anger. The war in Gaza has been no different, with McDonald’s and Starbucks branches in Lebanon attacked and consumer boycotts announced throughout the region.

These attacks and boycotts echo similar scenes from the time of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s and the Iraq War era, which prompted a ban on Coca-Cola that remained in place in many Arab countries for decades, giving its rival Pepsi a market advantage enjoyed to this day.

As Israel continues its bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Hamas attack of Oct. 7, Arabs have again launched a boycott of American franchises in the region to voice their solidarity with the Palestinians and to protest the perceived bias towards Israel.

At the heart of the controversy is McDonald’s — the world’s biggest fast-food chain — after the burger giant’s Israeli franchise announced it was sending thousands of meals to Israeli soldiers stationed on the front line against Hamas.

Arabs condemned the company after videos circulated on social media showing uniformed Israeli Defense Force troops enjoying McDonald’s branded burgers, fries and milkshakes — in stark contrast with the hunger and thirst-ravaged Gazan civilians just across the border.

It is not just McDonald’s that has faced a grilling for its perceived pro-Israel stance. Other American brands, including Starbucks, Burger King, Hardee’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Dominos, are also facing boycotts across the Arab world.

“Arab boycotts of American franchises due to the Palestine-Israel conflict highlight the deep-rooted emotions and political activism that this issue stirs in the region,” Ehsan Amin, a 35-year-old Saudi and private sector worker, told Arab News.




Smoke and fire rise from a levelled building as people gather amid the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on October 26, 2023. (AFP)

“Every person has their way of showing solidarity. Some protest in the streets and others boycott. I chose to boycott. This serves as a means for my voice to call out the Western bias in favor of Israel.”

Boycotts are a familiar tactic employed by Arab activists against multinational corporations that are viewed as supporters of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and military operations in Gaza.

Since the conflict erupted on Oct. 7, many Arab nations have accused the US of favoring Israel over the Palestinians. With limited means of influencing US policy, Arab consumers are instead voting with their feet and choosing to spurn American brands.

“The recent events in Gaza have expectedly reignited the region’s deep solidarity with the Palestinian people and heightened sensitivity to corporate messaging,” Amjad Ahmad, chairman of the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative, told Arab News.

“For global brands, this is a tenuous time, and they must lean forward to ensure they don’t offend their diverse consumers.

“Unfortunately, this can be challenging for franchisors with disparate local owners. However, this does not absolve them of the responsibility to do so, and most contractual franchise agreements allow them a certain amount of control, especially concerning communications.”

The influence of social media in promoting these boycotts cannot be understated. Platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram have allowed activists to rally support for their cause, sharing information and updates about which companies to boycott and why.

“Given the size and virality of social media, consumer advocacy is more powerful than ever and can have an outsized impact, positively and negatively, on brands,” said Ahmad. “Global brands, particularly, have a unique challenge in managing communications, given their vast and diverse footprint.”

However, customers may not be aware there is a distinction between a company’s global management and its regional franchises. Indeed, the actions of McDonald’s Israel do not necessarily reflect the views of the company as a whole or its other branches.

In fact, McDonald’s outlets in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan and other states have offered support to the Palestinian people by providing financial relief and messages of solidarity.

Following the news that McDonald’s Israel was donating meals to IDF soldiers, McDonald’s KSA released a statement on X emphasizing this was an independent decision, stressing that the actions of individual franchise partners do not reflect company policy.

“As a purely Saudi company, we have been proud, since our inception, of our Saudi identity, and our continuous contribution to supporting our economy and national community, and adopting social and humanitarian matters that it (our community) is concerned with,” McDonald’s KSA said.

In alignment with these values, “we are delighted to announce that McDonald’s KSA will be making a donation of SR2 million ($533,000) to support the relief efforts for the citizens of Gaza, may God help them. This contribution follows coordination with the relevant official authorities.”

Franchises in Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Turkiye, Bahrain, Pakistan, the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt have likewise donated money to Gaza.




Gazan health authorities said at least 6,500 people have been killed since Oct. 7, 2023. (AFP)

The vast majority of McDonald’s locations are run by local franchise operators. These operators act in many ways as independent businesses, setting wages and prices and, when they feel appropriate, making statements or donations at their discretion.

When American restaurants expand internationally, they typically rely on local franchise operators because regional business owners are better equipped to deal with local dynamics and appeal to local tastes. In doing so, they also cede some control over the business.

The effectiveness of boycotts in bringing about meaningful political change therefore remains a topic of debate. Critics argue that the impact on American franchises may be limited, but proponents believe that it serves as a powerful expression of solidarity and resistance.

“Middle East consumers can pressure brands by voting with their wallets, especially those brands with meaningful revenues in the region. Their actions may also spark a worldwide movement, multiplying the effect,” said Ahmad.

“Using economic pressure can be the most potent tool to protest, especially in countries with limited freedoms. Historically, financial pressure or boycotts have been used effectively, including during the US civil rights movement, in apartheid South Africa, and most recently against Russia.

“With the US’s unequivocal and unwavering support of Israel, US brands are particularly vulnerable. They may be negatively impacted in the short term with an elevated risk for long-term damage. Just as popular US brands prospered with the rise of America’s soft power, they will weaken with its potential decline.”

One of the most prominent instances of such a boycott occurred after the US officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and subsequently relocated its embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

This move was met with condemnation across the Arab world, as it was seen as a significant deviation from long standing international agreements regarding the status of Jerusalem.

In response, many Arab consumers and businesses initiated boycotts of American franchises like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and KFC.

In some cases, boycotts have had tangible financial impacts, but they can be hard to sustain long term.

“While we may not always have a substantial economic impact on the franchises, they are a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause,” boycotter Amin told Arab News.

“They are also a way for us to engage with a complex geopolitical issue that deeply resonates with the region.”


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden
  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A merchant vessel reported an explosion in its vicinity 126 nautical miles east of Yemen’s port city of Aden, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said late on Friday.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in an advisory note, without identifying the vessel.
The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
In over 70 attacks, the group has sunk two vessels, seized another and killed at least three seafarers.

 


Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas
  • Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations”
  • Israel has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

MADRID: Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and release Israeli hostages held there.
The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.
There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.
“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.
“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages,” he added.
The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.
“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.
“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.
Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations.”
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.
Haniyeh said “the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 

 


German foreign minister to visit Beirut as fears rise of wider conflict with Israel

German foreign minister to visit Beirut as fears rise of wider conflict with Israel
Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

German foreign minister to visit Beirut as fears rise of wider conflict with Israel

German foreign minister to visit Beirut as fears rise of wider conflict with Israel
  • Lebanon counts on success of US diplomatic efforts to prevent full-scale war
  • Former ambassador to US tells Arab News: ‘No one has an interest in open war’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib met with French Ambassador Herva Magro, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and US Ambassador Lisa Johnson on Friday.

The minister reiterated Lebanon’s call for the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hennis-Plasschaert said there was “no inevitability (to wider conflict with Israel)” during her visit to UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Also on Friday, it was announced that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will make shuttle visits to Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank.

Concerned at the risk of Israel’s war on Gaza spreading across the region, US President Joe Biden sent his special envoy Amos Hochstein to embark on a new round of diplomacy last week. Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation during talks with Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday, informing both sides that “the threat of a full-scale war persists and must be avoided.”

It is widely believed in Lebanon that Hochstein convinced Israel to refrain from escalating its military actions against Lebanon for the time being.

In a meeting with visiting Israeli officials including National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the importance of “avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” according to a statement.

According to his spokesperson, Matthew Miller, Blinken also stressed America’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

During his talks in Beirut, Hochstein reportedly reassured Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza was being viewed positively, and that Qatar was working to make it happen.

Hochstein also reportedly told Mikati that “things are under control and positive when it comes to the war between Lebanon and Israel.”

Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington, Riad Tabbarah, described threats of war as a “mere outburst.”

He told Arab News: “Since military operations began on the southern front about nine months ago, the Lebanese have been hearing that war is coming, but it never arrives.

“During diplomatic negotiations, it is common for both sides to face pressure and threats,” he continued. “It appears that there are numerous and diverse negotiations happening behind the scenes, including discussions between the Americans and Iranians, as well as between the Americans and Hezbollah.”

Tabbarah acknowledged the recklessness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said the Israeli leader “has two options — either war or prison. And there is significant pressure on him, especially from the families of the hostages.”

Tabbarah noted that there are limits to what military action can achieve. “We still recall the time when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crossed those limits in 1982 when he set the Litani Line as his target. However, he went beyond that and reached Beirut. As a result, international powers united to bring him back to the Litani Line.

“No one has an interest in war,” he continued. “Americans, Europeans, and Iranians are working in the opposite direction. The general trend is to avoid escalating to open war.”

Military operations on the Lebanese front decreased significantly on Friday, although the outskirts of Naqoura in the western sector were targeted by Israeli artillery, causing a fire in a house. In the morning, an Israeli military raid targeted the town of Wazzani.

Hezbollah made a series of announcements about their operations, which were “focused on specific targets within the rules of engagement.”

Hezbollah attacked the sites of Ramtha and Samaka in the occupied Lebanese Kfar Shouba Hills, the Zabadin site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and carried out an air attack using drones on the Ras Al-Naqoura naval site, aiming at locations containing Israeli military personnel.

The Lebanese Ministry of Health said that, up to June 19, it has recorded a total of 1,774 casualties, including 432 fatalities, caused by Israeli attacks.


 


2 Palestinians killed in West Bank

2 Palestinians killed in West Bank
Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

2 Palestinians killed in West Bank

2 Palestinians killed in West Bank
  • The Wafa Agency reported that eyewitnesses saw Israeli special forces firing live ammunition at a vehicle on Friday afternoon as it passed along the main street of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank

QALQILYA: Israeli and Palestinian authorities said at least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli operation in the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya on Friday.
The Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs reported the death of the two men.
“The General Authority of Civil Affairs informed the Ministry of Health of the martyrdom of Mahmoud Hassan Abdul Rahman Zaid, 28, and Ihab Abdul Karim Musa Abu Hamed, 29, by Israeli gunfire in Qalqilya,” it said in a statement.
The Wafa Agency reported that eyewitnesses saw Israeli special forces firing live ammunition at a vehicle on Friday afternoon as it passed along the main street of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank.
Images taken by an AFP journalist on the ground showed the destroyed storefront of a downtown shoe shop and blood stains in front of it.
Police forces have killed 2 “wanted terrorists in Qalqilya,” Israeli authorities said.
In a joint statement, the Israeli police, army, and Shin Bet security service said that Israeli forces “attempted to arrest two terrorists” from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, one of whom “was planning to carry out an attack in the area.”
“During the arrest, fire was opened on our forces, who returned fire and neutralized the terrorists,” the statement read, adding that the forces found handguns on the Palestinians.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has experienced a surge in violence for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials.