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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 16:09 GMT
Hi-tech outlets for Arab anger
Palestinian children demonstrating in Beirut
Anger has spread across the Arab world
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

The Middle East crisis has aroused profound feelings of anger across the Arab world, and new technology is providing an outlet for such wrath.

Many in the region were disappointed that their leaders did not take a tougher stand when they met 10 days ago in Egypt.

The plight of the Palestinians is now relayed to people's homes via the internet. Photos of children being shot are now being passed around Cairo's computer users.


Everybody is so mad... now we can see through satellite communications, we can see what's going on

Madiha Safty
Public opinion in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world has been galvanised by the continued bloodshed, and e-mail, satellite television and mobile phones are all playing a role in people's responses.

Al-Jazeera television, broadcast from the Gulf state of Qatar, beams the conflict into Arab homes day and night.

Madiha Safty, who teaches sociology at the American University of Cairo, says she has never seen Egyptians so angry.

Al-Jazeera TV showing Israeli-Palestinian clashes
Qatari Al-Jazeera TV reaches homes across the Arab world
"Everybody is so mad at what's going on. I don't think there is any exception in this case. And definitely one factor here is the developments in technology - the fact that now we can see through satellite communications, we can see what's going on," she said.

"The feeling is it's not Israel per se, but it's more the US that is in support, and if the US would take away its support, then definitely Israel wouldn't be so sure and so confident to behave in the way it is."

Boycott

Anti-American sentiment has now given rise to grassroots calls for a boycott of US products.

Khaled Mahmoud is a member of a new, unofficial committee trying to encourage people to buy Egyptian instead.

"We have three steps. The first step is to identify the goods that are coming from the States. Second one is to publish the names of these goods. Step number three is to call people to boycott them," he says.

Palestinian demonstration at West Bank funeral
Powerful images of the uprising are also on the internet

Several such lists have already been circulated - in schools, in the Cairo underground and on the internet.

Messages have been left on mobile phones, urging people to save the women and children of Palestine by not buying American and Israeli goods.

There have also been calls to avoid the UK supermarket chain Sainsburys, after rumours spread that it was sending money to Israel.

Sainsburys has vigorously denied the suggestions, but Mark Ibbotson, the store's retail manager in Egypt, says it has been a difficult time.


My sense is that companies here are extremely worried about [the boycott call]... I think it has had some significant impact

Neil McDonald, US Chamber of Commerce
"Three weeks ago it was a major impact. We're still having an impact now...

"We have got 5,000 employees that are obviously very concerned, very upset by it, and are explaining to all their friends and families. The message is starting to get home now," Mr Ibbotson says.

In the stores themselves business continues. It is difficult to gauge exactly how hard these boycott calls will bite. But Neil McDonald of the US Chamber of Commerce says they have been widespread and well-publicised.

Fast food habit

"My sense is that companies here are extremely worried about it. I think it has had some significant impact," he says.

It is easier to find a seat now at the McDonald's next to the American University in central Cairo. Like other American fast-food chains, it is feeling the effects of the boycott call.

mobile phone
Calls for a boycott have been sent via mobile phone

But a McDonald's customer noted that such chains are popular in Egypt. "Young people go to it like every day, and eat every day," she said.

"I really love it, and anything American. Yes, McDonald's, Kentucky, pizza," said another customer.

Many young Egyptians who can afford it have, it seems, developed a habit for American fast food that they do not want to break.

Egyptian-US ties

But there is another problem for boycott organisers - globalisation. McDonald's in Egypt is now an Egyptian-owned franchise employing thousands of Egyptians.

Economist Gouda Abdel Khalek says US and Egyptian business interests are often intertwined.

"Franchising and the fact that it's very hard to find a totally American or Egyptian business concern is a complicating factor definitely, because you're getting so many parties entangled together."

The boycott movement is very much an unofficial one. It is not supported by the Egyptian Government, which receives around $2bn of US aid each year.

But it is a sign of a wider public frustration that Arab leaders have not taken a tougher stand in the current crisis.

Satellite television viewers across the region continue to see harrowing images of the conflict that their governments may wish they did not see. The sense of frustration could well increase.

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