Calls for cutting ties with the U.S. and boycotting their goods have spread across the Middle East since its president declared Jerusalem the Israeli capital last week.
For many, it has been seen as a means to protest Donald Trump’s controversial decision, which has undermined the peace process. In Saudi Arabia, however, the issue is more complicated.
Despite some enthusiasm for the hashtag “boycott American restaurants,” the campaign has been marred by concerns that it is ineffective and will predominantly harm Saudis.
Meanwhile, responses to the trend have revealed an increasing number of Saudis appear to have little sympathy for Palestinians.
The apparent growing animosity comes amid reports of improving ties between Saudi and Israeli leadership.
- 'Riyadh is More Important Than Jerusalem' Hashtag Sees Backlash Over Saudi-Israeli Ties
- Saudi's Balancing Act: Relations with Israel and Arab Public Opinion
The hashtag began trending early this week, with some taking it up enthusiastically as a means to “bring our brothers in Palestine victory.”
Interesting to see this trending in Saudi Arabia "Boycott American restaurants". Includes chains like Pizza Hut, Burger King, Mc Donalds etc #قاطعوا_المطاعم_الامريكيه— Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) December 12, 2017
It was described by @wj880 as a boycott against capitalism and “decisionmaker Trump, who himself is a businessman.”
"Boycott is a battle without a weapon, resistance without violence and popular mobilization without crowds," wrote @DrHakem "#Boycott_American_restaurants in support of the #Battle_for_Jerusalem"
Boycott, which has been used since 2005 by the BDS movement as a means to pressure Israel over Palestinian rights, has been proposed in the last week as a response against the U.S. decision on Jerusalem.
It was discussed by lawmakers in Jordan’s parliament as a possible step and has been encouraged by Palestinian politicians.
However, some were quick to point out a flaw in the particular call to boycott U.S. fast food chains in Saudi Arabia.
These are all franchises fully owned by GCC conglomerates https://t.co/o5TG2gRqiQ— Christian Henderson (@CjvHenderson) December 12, 2017
In fact Saudi companies operate the franchises for U.S. restaurants across the region. The Olayan Group runs Burger King outlets in 9 MENA nations, for instance.
@KHALED_Z_KSA_24 pointed out that not only are the owners of these franchises Saudis, many thousands of locals are also employed on low wages in the restaurants.
Aside from practical considerations, criticism of the hashtag campaign threw light on what seems to be an increased enmity among some Saudis towards Palestinians.
“Imagine boycotting American restaurants for traitors who hate us, and who would kill us if they could because they handed over their land to the enemy,” tweeted @fofo_mahmadl
“They blame us as if we were their guardians. Enough stupidity, we won't ever boycott anything,” she added, sharing a video of crowds waving the Palestinian flag ripping up scored-out images of the Saudi king and crown prince.
How can I boycott for someone who tried to to violate our kings? I will not boycott and damn #your_cause
Even a tweet backing the boycott from @hossamf0071 said they should support the struggle for Jerusalem as an Islamic and Arab city, not to help “certain weak Palestinians.”
Similar sentiments could be seen last month when the Saudi hashtag “Riyadh is More Important Than Jerusalem” attacked what commenters described as “ungrateful” Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia has been a “pioneer in the defense of Palestine since 1948” said @sam112780, while @M_Aljabr accused Palestinians of being “treacherous and standing with our enemies.”
The trend set off a backlash from the Lebanese and Palestinian Twitter users who criticized what they described as Saudi “normalization” with Israel.
Israeli officials have given multiple indications in recent months of the existence of cooperation with Saudi Arabia against Iran. While the Saudi foreign minister has denied ties, subtler signs of the apparent warming have been noted from Riyadh too.
The two nations do not have any official diplomatic relations.
Meanwhile, in response to the hashtag call for a boycott of American restaurants, some Saudis enthusiastically praised U.S. influence in their nation.
"The country we have most benefited from is America, whether from the discovery of "black gold" and the establishment of Aramco to the Gulf War and intervention in the face of the tyranny of Iraq, to research and higher education and military agreements and intelligence," tweeted @timmyturner_s.
Donald Trump’s presidency has seen a considerable improvement in relations between Washington and Riyadh.
The U.S. president made his first overseas visit there in May, and backed Saudi policy on Qatar and its anti-corruption drive in enthusiastic tweets.
In addition to the thawing of links with Israel, this could go some way to explaining the lack of popular Saudi enthusiasm for a boycott of the U.S.
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