GAZA CITY: A Palestinian man holds up a cutout of a hashtag calling for the boycott of French goods during a demonstration outside the French Cultural Center yesterday. – AFP

PARIS/ANKARA: France urged Arab countries to stop calls for boycotts of French products, while President Emmanual Macron vowed the country would never give in to Islamist radicals. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday joined calls for the boycott, ramping up a standoff between France and Muslim countries over Islam and freedom of speech. Erdogan has led the charge against Macron over his robust defense of the right to mock religion following the murder of Samuel Paty, a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

France’s foreign affairs ministry said there had been calls to boycott French products, notably food products, in several Middle Eastern countries as well as calls for demonstrations against France over the cartoons. “These calls for boycott are baseless and should stop immediately, as well as all attacks against our country, which are being pushed by a radical minority,” the ministry said. The ministry also called on authorities to speak out against such boycott actions in order to help French companies and ensure the safety of French citizens.

Yesterday, the Turkish leader added his voice to calls in the Arab world for citizens to spurn French goods. “As it has been said in France, ‘don’t buy Turkish-labeled goods’, I call on my people here. Never give credit to French-labeled goods, don’t buy them,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in Ankara. French goods have already been pulled from supermarket shelves in Kuwait and Qatar, among other Gulf states, whereas in Syria people have burned pictures of Macron and French flags have been torched in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

In Kuwait, the non-governmental Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies, which groups more than 70 establishments, issued the boycott directive in an Oct 23 circular. Several co-ops visited by Reuters on Sunday had cleared the shelves of items such as hair and beauty products made by French companies. Union head Fahd Al-Kishti told Reuters the products had been removed in response to “repeated insults” against the Prophet (PBUH).

The co-ops, some the size of hypermarkets, carry government-subsidized staples and account for a big part of retail in Kuwait. Kuwait’s imports from France stood at KD 255 million ($834.70 million) in 2019, according to Kuwait’s Central Statistics bureau. In Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, a hashtag calling for the boycott of French supermarket retailer Carrefour was the second most trending on Sunday. After a Danish paper first published the cartoons in 2005, protests and boycotts on Danish goods swept the Islamic world.

Yesterday, the head of MEDEF – France’s largest employers’ federation – said the boycott, which he described as “foolishness”, was clearly bad news for companies already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. “But there is no question of giving in to blackmail,” Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux told broadcaster RMC. “It is a question of sticking to our republican values. “There is a time to put principles above business.” He said MEDEF supported the government’s stance and urged companies “to resist this blackmail and, unfortunately, to endure this boycott”, which he said remained “fairly localized” for now.

Erdogan yesterday compared the treatment of Muslims in Europe to that of Jews before World War II, saying they were the object of a “lynching campaign”. “You are in a real sense fascists, you are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism,” he said, calling on Europe to end its “Macron-led hate campaign” against Muslims. On Sunday, Macron said in a tweet: “We will not give in, ever” to Islamist radicals. “We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate,” the French leader added.

Macron added that France “cherished” freedom, “guaranteed” equality, and experienced fraternity “intensely” in a reference to the nation’s credo. “Our history is one of fighting tyranny and fanaticism. We will continue,” he said. Earlier this month, Macron unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against a trend of “Islamist separatism,” and described Islam as a religion “in crisis”. His stance has fuelled tensions with Turkey particularly. On Saturday, Paris announced it was recalling its envoy to Ankara after Erdogan, who has styled himself a defender of Muslims worldwide, questioned Macron’s sanity.

Macron has also drawn fire in other Muslim-majority countries. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron of “attacking Islam”, while the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Taleban, the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and Morocco have also spoken out against France. Fresh anti-France protests were held yesterday in the Gaza Strip, and will be held today in Amman. – Agencies