Western Fast Food Chains Face Deserted Outlets in Cairo as Grassroots Boycott Gains Momentum Across Arab World

In a spontaneous and grassroots movement, Western fast food chains in Cairo, Egypt, are witnessing deserted branches due to a widespread boycott campaign fueled by public outrage over Israel’s military attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The impact is not limited to Egypt; signs of the campaign are emerging in neighboring countries such as Jordan, with indications of spreading influence in Kuwait and Morocco. However, participation varies, with only minor effects observed in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where recent celebrations in Riyadh during the attacks on Gaza diminished the impact.

The boycott targets Western brands perceived to have taken pro-Israeli stances or alleged financial ties to Israel. Social media plays a pivotal role in amplifying boycott calls, expanding the list of targeted companies and products, urging consumers to shift to local alternatives.

Fast food branch seen empty
Fast food branch seen empty

In Egypt, the boycott is viewed as a means for citizens to voice their protest against Israeli actions, expressing solidarity with Palestine by refraining from contributing to an economy linked to what they perceive as Israeli atrocities. Citizens like 31-year-old Cairo resident Reham Hamed are boycotting U.S. products, believing it is a small but meaningful way to dissociate from what they view as complicity.

Similar sentiments are echoed in Jordan, where pro-boycott individuals enter McDonald’s and Starbucks outlets, encouraging scarce customers to support local businesses. In Kuwait City, a tour of major fast-food chains on Tuesday revealed nearly empty branches, while in Rabat, Morocco, Starbucks reported a significant decline in customers.

Responding to the boycott, McDonald’s Corp expressed dismay at misinformation about its stance on the Gaza conflict and emphasized its doors are open to all. The Egyptian franchise highlighted its local ownership and pledged aid to Gaza. Starbucks, refuting rumors of supporting the Israeli government, maintains it is a non-political organization and directs attention to an October-updated statement about its Middle East operations.

The boycott impact extends beyond fast food, affecting sales and demand for associated products. In Egypt, an employee at McDonald’s corporate offices reported a sales drop of at least 70 percent in October and November compared to the same period last year. TBS Holding, a supplier to Starbucks and McDonald’s, noted a slowdown of about 50 percent in demand.

Despite efforts by targeted brands to defend themselves and exclusive deals to retain business, the boycott campaign gains momentum, even spreading beyond the Arab world. McDonald’s in Malaysia claims a 20 percent decline in patrons, and Grab faces boycott calls in Malaysia after the CEO’s wife expressed affinity for Israel. In response, some companies pledge aid for Palestinians.

Boycott campaigns have encountered varied success, with limited impact seen in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia. The unprecedented scale of the Israeli military attacks on Gaza has sparked an unparalleled reaction, intensifying the boycott movement and prompting a reevaluation of business ties with perceived pro-Israel entities.



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