In order to protest against the US support of Israel, Arabs and Muslims have compiled a list of US firms and companies to be included in a boycott that is stretching throughout the Middle East. On the Egyptian list, however, a black sheep has appeared; neither US nor actively supporting Israel, the sales of UK supermarket chain Sainsbury in Egypt are potentially to suffer the same tapering fate as those of Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble.

 It seems that the boycott list is evidence of residual bad feeling against Sainsbury, which opened its first Egyptian store in 1997 and originally elicited criticism when mosque preachers and pro-Islamist newspapers alleged that, with its cheap prices and popular stores, it sought a market monopoly. 

 With a 100 strong chain, Sainsbury could not exactly deny this, but then that’s what multinationals do! The supermarket group did however consistently deny further rumours that it was controlled by a Jewish group that planned to donate funds to Israel, a somewhat touchy subject since 1979, when opponents of a progressive peace deal between Egypt and Israel began political and economic protest campaigns.

 And now the Israeli/Palestinian violence has been renewed, this is all the excuse that anti-Sainsbury protestors need.

 It is possible that this could finally prompt Sainsbury’s complete withdrawal from the Egyptian market, after struggles against local licensing laws and the poor trading environment in the Middle East generated losses of £10.2m in the H1 of 2000.

 Local warnings of the effect of job losses in this instance have been offered, but a representative of the anti-Israeli fervour currently characterising the Egyptian retail sector, Mustafa Bakri, editor of a local weekly newspaper, argued: “These warnings should not scare us or discourage us from continuing our campaign. Many businessmen support us, and if a few hundred workers were fired, they should be able to offer them jobs.” For Sainsbury’s employees, however, currently numbering more than 2,500, this cannot come as much relief. recently carried a feature on this the troubles facing Western groups in Israel. To read it, click here.