French products boycott spreads to Egypt, likely to go further

The boycott of French goods by consumers in Muslim countries has reached Egypt, a key market for French supermarket chain Carrefour, as well as several major French FMCG brands including Danone and L’Oréal. We think there is a risk the boycott can spread further in Africa.

The boycott calls came after statements by French President Emmanuel Macron on October 21, which many considered offensive to Islam and to the Prophet Mohammad. Macron has backed the right to publish satirical caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. He has also accused Islam of being a “religion in crisis”. He made the comments following the murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who was killed by an Islamic extremist.

A social media campaign calling for the boycott of French products in the Middle East and North Africa has named tens of high profile French companies and brands. Following its launch the 4 Shopping Mall in Sadat City, 94km northwest of the Egyptian capital Cairo, made a public show of removing all its French products from shelves. It subsequently removed pictures it had posted on social media of workers removing the products.

Carrefour franchisee and Majid Al-Futtaim issued a press release to make clear clarifying that it, not Carrefour, owns the stores in the Middle East.

In 2019, Danone was hit hard in the milk market in Morocco, losing 50% market share, after Moroccan activists launched a consumer boycott campaign against it and other major suppliers in protest of rising prices.

The boycott has not just affected FMCG brands – it is also targeted at luxury brands such as Dior, Lacoste and Givenchy. French media has reported that 430 international travel agencies have suspended the purchase of airline tickets to France.

The Egyptian government has rushed to limit the diplomatic damage, arguing also that French investment in local production will hurt local workers and the local economy. Approximately 165 French companies operating in Egypt, employing 38,000 people.

Meanwhile, the boycott continues to spread across Islamic countries. Pakistan is the latest country to see demonstrations and moves against French products.

Bear in mind that several countries outside North Africa have significant Muslim populations. These include Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Uganda, Chad, Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Tanzania.

It’s not clear how far the boycott can spread in Africa but it looks like anger on social media will continue to run and the risk is that it will involve more countries. Although distributors and traders tend to be fairly pragmatic sorts, in West Africa particularly much of the import trade and distribution is run by Muslims. We don’t expect traders and distributors to switch away from French brands – there is a lot of investment to lose, but there is a small risk that some traders may see French products as less attractive.

In France, many people see the country as having a battle of French values against Islam. Outside France, many Muslims don’t want to support brands that are associated with attacks on their religion. The longer the boycott continues, the more damage will be done to the brand image of French products.