Several Arab trade associations have announced the boycott of French products, protesting the recent comments made by President Emmanuel Macron on Islam.
Earlier this month, Macron pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, which he said was threatening to take control in some Muslim communities around France.
He also described Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide and said the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France, reports Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
His comments, in addition to his backing of satirical outlets publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, has led to a social media campaign calling for the boycott of French products from supermarkets in Arab countries and Turkey.
Hashtags such as the #BoycottFrenchProducts in English and the Arabic #ExceptGodsMessenger trended across countries including Kuwait, Qatar, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
In Kuwait, the chairman and members of the board of directors of the Al-Naeem Cooperative Society decided to boycott all French products and to remove them from supermarket shelves.
The Dahiyat al-Thuhr association took the same step, saying: “Based on the position of French President Emmanuel Macron and his support for the offensive cartoons against our beloved prophet, we decided to remove all French products from the market and branches until further notice.”
In Qatar, the Wajbah Dairy company announced a boycott of French products and pledged to provide alternatives, according to their Twitter account.
Al Meera Consumer Goods Company, a Qatari joint stock company, announced on Twitter: “We have immediately withdrawn French products from our shelves until further notice.”
“We affirm that as a national company, we work according to a vision consistent with our true religion, our established customs and traditions, and in a way that serves our country and our faith and meets the aspirations of our customers.”
Qatar University also joined the campaign. Its administration has postponed a French Cultural Week event indefinitely, citing the “deliberate abuse of Islam and its symbols”.
In a statement on Twitter, the university said any prejudice against Islamic belief, sanctities and symbols is “totally unacceptable, as these offences harm universal human values and the highest moral principles that contemporary societies highly regard”.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) described Macron’s statements as “irresponsible”, and said they are aimed at spreading a culture of hatred among peoples.
“At a time when efforts must be directed towards promoting culture, tolerance and dialogue between cultures and religions, such rejected statements and calls for publishing insulting images of the Prophet (Muhammad) – may blessings and peace be upon him – are published,” said the council’s secretary-general, Nayef al-Hajraf.
Al-Hajraf called on world leaders, thinkers and opinion leaders to reject hate speech and contempt of religions and their symbols, and to respect the feelings of Muslims, instead of falling captive to Islamophobia.
In a statement, Kuwait’s foreign ministry warned against the support of abuses and discriminatory policies that link Islam to terrorism, saying it “represents a falsification of reality, insults the teachings of Islam, and offends the feelings of Muslims around the world”.
On Friday, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned what it said was France’s continued attack against Muslims by insulting religious symbols.
The secretariat of the Jeddah-based organisation said in a statement it is surprised at the official political rhetoric issued by some French officials that offend French-Islamic relations and fuels feelings of hatred for political party gains.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered in Thailand’s capital again on Sunday, seeking to keep up pressure on the government a day before a special session of Parliament that was called to try to ease political tensions.
The rally took place at the busy Rajprasong intersection, in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district. Few protesters turned out in the first hour of the rally, but their numbers later swelled to several thousand, who listened to rude denunciations of the government in chants, speeches and even songs.
The rally was called Saturday night after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ignored the protesters’ deadline to step down, reports AP.
The protesters’ core demands also include a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy. Public criticism of the monarchy is unprecedented in a country where the royal institution has been considered sacrosanct.
The demonstrators charge that Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014 as the army chief, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters also say that the constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is undemocratic.
Prayuth’s government last week called the special parliamentary session to seek to defuse weeks of almost daily protests. The session begins Monday and is expected to last two days.
“The only way to a lasting solution for all sides that is fair for those on the streets as well as for the many millions who choose not to go on the streets is to discuss and resolve these differences through the parliamentary process,” Prayuth said last week.
He also lifted a state of emergency that he had imposed a week earlier that made the protest rallies illegal.
The protesters were not impressed by his efforts to appease them, declaring them insincere.
They noted on social media that the points of discussion submitted by the government for debate dealt not with their concerns but were thinly disguised criticisms of the protests themselves.
They concern the risk of the coronavirus spreading at rallies, the alleged interference with a royal motorcade by a small crowd earlier this month, and illegal gatherings and the destruction of images of the royal family.
Protest organizers have called for a Monday afternoon march to the German Embassy in central Bangkok, far from the Parliament complex on the outskirts of the city.
The apparent rationale for the march is to bring attention to the protesters’ contention that King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany.
Protesters’ criticism of the royal institution has irked conservative Thais because the monarchy traditionally has been treated as sacrosanct.
Self-proclaimed “defenders of the monarchy” mobilized last week online and in rallies in several cities, in many cases led by local civil servants. On Wednesday, a small royalist rally in Bangkok broke into violence when a few attendees attacked anti-government student activists.
On Sunday, as many as 1,000 royalists gathered peacefully outside Parliament, vowing to stay overnight so they could make known to lawmakers in the morning their opposition to any changes in the status of the monarchy.
Women’s rights activists in Poland staged protests during Sunday church services in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation against a tightening of the nation’s already restrictive abortion law.
In the fourth straight day of protests, activists held up banners during Masses in some churches, according to Polish media and posts on social media, reports AP.
A young woman in one Warsaw church stood near the altar with a sign that said “Let’s pray for the right to abortion.”
An LGBT rights group, Grupa Stonewall, posted a video showing people protesting in a church in the western Polish city of Poznan, chanting “We’ve had enough!” Churchgoers replied by chanting “Barbarians!”
Some Poles argued on Twitter that people should not bring politics into churches. Others said that Poland’s powerful Catholic Church had involved itself in politics by pushing for a total abortion ban and supporting the country’s right-wing government and far-right organizations in some cases.
The actions on Sunday follow a ruling on Thursday by Poland’s constitutional court that declared that aborting fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional. Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, and the ruling will result in a near-complete ban on abortion.
Women’s Strike, the organizer of the protests, argues that forcing women to give birth to fetuses with severe defects will result in unnecessary physical and mental suffering.
The organization vowed more protests in the coming week, including blockades of cities on Monday, a nationwide strike by women on Wednesday and street protests on Friday.
The actions are planned at a time when the Polish government is struggling to contain escalating coronavirus cases and anger over restrictions that are harming the economy.
On Sunday, a banner with the slogan “Women’s Hell” was hung on a church fence in Otwock, a town near Warsaw.
The activists also created posters of a crucified pregnant woman intended for hanging outside churches, according to media reports, though it was not immediately clear how many were hung.
Thursday’s ruling came as Poland’s nationalist conservative ruling party has politicized the courts — including the Constitutional Tribunal — and used discriminatory language against LGBT people.
Last week, the president swore in a new education minister who has said that LGBT people are not equal to “normal people,” has argued in support of corporal punishment and said women’s key purpose in life is to have children.
Health Ministry figures show that 1,110 legal abortions were carried out in Poland in 2019, mostly because of fetal defects. The only other legal cases remaining for abortion are rape or incest or if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health.
Spain declared a second nationwide state of emergency Sunday and ordered an overnight curfew across the country in hopes of stemming a resurgence in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said.
The Socialist leader told the nation in a televised address that the extraordinary measure will go into effect on Sunday night, reports AP.
Sánchez said that his government is using the state of emergency to impose an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. nationwide curfew, except in the Canary Islands.
Spain’s 19 regional leaders will have authority to set different hours for the curfew as long as they are stricter, close regional borders to travel and limit gatherings to six people who don’t live together, the prime minister said.
“The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic,” Sánchez said after meeting with his Cabinet.
The leader added that he would ask Parliament this week to extend the state of emergency for six months, until May.
Sánchez’s government said Saturday night that a majority of Spain’s regional leaders have agreed to a new state of emergency and the meeting Sunday was to study its terms.
The state of emergency gives the national government extraordinary powers, including the ability to temporarily restrict basic freedoms guaranteed in Spain’s Constitution such as the right to free movement.
Spain’s government has already declared two state of emergencies during the pandemic. The first was declared in March to apply a strict home confinement across the nation, close stores and recruit private industry for the national public health fight. It was lifted in June after reigning in the contagion rate and saving hospitals from collapse.
The second went into effect for two weeks in Madrid to force the capital’s reluctant regional leaders to impose travel limits on residents to slow down an outbreak in which new infections were growing exponentially. It lasted until Saturday.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has said his agency and regional health officials were studying how to apply nightly curfews, perhaps like the 9 p.m. ones already in place in France’s major cities.
The state of emergency would make it easier for authorities to take swift action, avoiding having to get many of the restrictions approved by a judge. Some judges have rejected efforts to limit movement in certain regions, causing confusion among the public.
Government officials on all levels were reticent to impose another complete home lockdown and industry shutdown, given the weakened state of Spain’s economy, which has plunged into a recession and seen its unemployment rolls skyrocket in recent months.
Spain this week became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded COVID-19 cases. But Sánchez admitted Friday in a nationally televised address that the true figure could be more than 3 million, due to gaps in testing and other factors.
Spain on Friday reported almost 20,000 new daily cases and 231 more deaths, taking the country’s death toll in the pandemic to 34,752.
Also read: Spain eases coronavirus restrictions
As the Friday night dinner service began earlier this month at the De Viering restaurant outside Brussels, it seemed the owners’ decision to move the operation into the spacious village church to comply with coronavirus rules was paying off. The reservation book was full and the kitchen was bustling.
And then Belgium’s prime minister ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close for at least a month in the face of surging infections.
“It’s another shock, of course, because — yes, all the investments are made,” said chef Heidi Vanhasselt. She and her sommelier husband Christophe Claes had installed a kitchen and new toilets in the Saint Bernardus church in Heikruis, as well as committing to 10 months’ rent and pouring energy into creative solutions.
Vanhasselt’s frustration is Europe’s as a resurgence of the coronavirus is dealing a second blow to the continent’s restaurants, which already suffered under lockdowns in the spring. From Northern Ireland to the Netherlands, European governments have shuttered eateries or severely curtailed how they operate.
More than just jobs and revenue are at stake — restaurants lie at the heart of European life. Their closures are threatening the social fabric by shutting the places where neighbors mix, extended families gather and the seeds of new families are sown.
A restaurant remains “a place where very special moments are celebrated,” said Griet Grassin of the Italian restaurant Tartufo on the outskirts of Brussels. “It’s not just the food, but it’s the well-being.”
This time, the closures are particularly painful because they might stretch into the Christmas season, nixing everything from pre-holiday office drinks to a special meal on the day.
When it comes to purely calories and vitamins, “of course we can live without restaurants,” said food historian professor Peter Scholliers.
But, he asked: “We can live without being social? No, we can’t.”
Successful restaurants have always had to adapt quickly — but never has there been a challenge like this.
The European Union said the hotel and restaurant industry suffered a jaw-dropping 79.3% decline in production between February and April. Try bouncing back from that.
Summer, with its drop in COVID-19 cases and a hesitant return to travel, brought some respite, especially in coastal resorts.
But then came fall. Any giddiness that the fallout from the pandemic could somehow be contained faced the sobering reality of relentlessly rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Overall, COVID-19 has killed over 240,000 people across all of Europe. Government leaders are now warning things will get worse before they get better.
But many restaurant owners have bristled at the new round of restrictions, and some are openly challenging them.
In London last week, the preeminent chef Yotam Ottolenghi banged pots on the street to protest restrictions that include earlier closing times.
“It’s really hard, we’ve got a great industry with lots of heart,” Ottolenghi said. “And there’s so many people who depend on it.”
If the mood of any nation is set by its stomach, surely France’s is. And it is turning as sour as a rhubarb tartlet. The streets of Paris, the culinary capital of Lyon and several other French cities were eerily empty at night during the first week of a 9 p.m. curfew scheduled to last for at least a month.
Xavier Denamur, who owns five Parisian cafes and bistros that employ around 70 workers, said the French government is unfairly punishing the industry.
“It’s a catastrophic measure,” he said, arguing any curfew should be pushed to at least 11 p.m. to allow for a proper dinner service.
In Italy, just such a late-night curfew went into effect in Milan — and even that triggered protests.
Still, highlighting how the world is feeling its way in the near darkness, restaurant and food delivery business owner Matteo Lorenzon argued the opposite. “Having a curfew starting at 11 p.m., it’s too late.”
Already in September, more than 400,000 employees of restaurants and cafes in Italy, a nation of 60 million, were unemployed, according to an estimate by Fipe, the restaurant lobby group. Its prediction for the coming months was even more dire: “Hundreds of thousands of jobs risk being erased definitively.”
In the Netherlands, which has one of the highest virus infection rates in Europe, more than 60 Dutch bars and restaurants sought to overturn a monthlong closure order but failed. Lawyer Simon van Zijll, representing the bars and restaurants, warned that the Dutch hospitality industry faces “a tidal wave of bankruptcies.”
The first lockdown in the spring caught the owners of Tartufo, the restaurant on the outskirts of Brussels, off guard.
This time, Grassin and her husband chef Kayes Ghourabi, were ready: They will ramp up their takeaway service and even offer their own gin with Mediterranean spices. Still, income will drop by about 70% to 80%.
“We lose, but it helps the costs. The electricity, the insurance that keep on going, even in a lockdown,” she said.
Across Europe, the stories are the same — of chefs thinking creatively, making something of a bad situation, showing resilience to save something they often built from scratch.
“I have a son, and I always say to my husband, ‘the restaurant was our first child.’ And you want to fight for it,” Grassin said.
Takeout is also a lifeline for Paolo Polli, who owned five bars and restaurants in Milan before closing four recently. His staff was cut from 60 to six. He said he made more money during the lockdown with his pizza-delivery service than when he reopened for regular service.
Down south, a balmy fall offered some reprieve, allowing restaurants to serve on outside terraces.
Despite this, in Portugal, the AHRESP restaurant association said restaurants lost more than half of their revenue. Now the chilly weather, stronger winds and rain are forcing everyone back indoors, where the virus spreads most easily.
“It will be impossible,″ said Artur Veloso, who manages the Risca restaurant in Carcavelos. “Winter will bring more ruin.”