BBC, Jan. 8, 2003
By Verity Murphy
Coke is no longer it. Or at least it won’t be if Tawfik Mathlouthi has anything to do with it.
It is all about combating “America’s imperialism and Zionism by providing a substitute for American goods and increasing the blockade of countries boycotting American goods,” Mr Mathlouthi told BBC News Online.
It is not the first time Coca-Cola has been the target of a “buy Muslim” challenge. Zamzam Cola, an Iranian drink named after a holy spring in Mecca, has won an enthusiastic reception in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Coca-Cola has dismissed Mr Mathlouthi’s move, saying he had “identified a commercial opportunity which involves the exploitation in Europe of the difficult and complex situation in the Middle East”.
“Ultimately it is the consumer who will make the decision,” the company said in a statement.
Popular anger against the United States over its support for Israel amid the Palestinian intifada has sparked a campaign to boycott American products throughout Arab countries.
US exports to Saudi Arabia declined by more than 40% in the first three months of 2002.
Coca-Cola admits that along with other businesses, it has “felt some impact of such boycotts,” though it does not elaborate.
The company insists that it is “not affiliated with any religion or ethnic group” and does not engage in politics.
Demand for bottles of Mecca Cola – which bear the slogan “No more drinking stupid, drink with commitment” – is already soaring.
Launched in France just two months ago, the drink is now being exported to Britain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
Next week the Scandinavian countries Sweden and Denmark will join the club, Mr Mathlouthi said.
And in one month’s time the drink will go on sale in the Middle East for the first time.
Mr Mathlouthi says that two million bottles, each holding 1.5 litres, have already been sold and the demand for advance orders has been phenomenal.
“We have orders for 16 million bottles and in England alone orders for two million bottles a month,” Mr Mathlouthi said.
The first businesses to sell Mecca Cola were what Mr Mathlouthi described as “small ethnic shops in Muslim areas”.
But now the drink can be found on the shelves of large cash and carry supermarkets in France, Belgium and Germany.
Profits to charity
One of the main attractions for buyers, Mr Mathlouthi says, is the fact that 10% of the profits go to charities operating in Palestinian territories and 10% to European NGOs.
When asked how the company ensures that the money it provides to Palestinians does not get channelled into terrorist activities Mr Mathlouthi says the aid is never given directly as cash.
“We give help by providing clothes and goods, or by paying the costs of the construction of schools there,” he said.
“If we give money we give it to Unicef,” the United Nations Children’s Fund, he added.
The other 10% is passed on to NGOs based in Europe who are working to promote peace around the world, he said.
Mr Mathlouthi is not concerned that his incendiary “Don’t drink stupid” logo may encourage anti-American sentiment, a growing problem worldwide.
“It is not my problem, it is the problem of the US administration. If they want to change anti-US sentiment they must change their policies and their double standards on human rights and politics,” he said.
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