If Coca-Cola is as American as apple pie, then Mecca-Cola is the Islamic counterpart. Targeting specifically Muslim soda drinkers with slogans like "Shake your conscience, drink with commitment", the Coke competitor positions itself as a political statement rather than a mere soft drink. Mecca-Cola is becoming a big hit. Outside of the U.S., anti-Americanism sells.

Which is why, according to The Economist, a whole new wave of soft drinks is arriving in Muslim districts and grocery stores in Europe--with Mecca- Cola leading the charge. The brainchild of a French-Tunisian businessman, Taufik Mathlouthi, Mecca will officially launch in the UK in January.

Ever since Mecca-Cola debuted in Paris in November 2002 the drink--or, to be more precise, the ideology behind it--has built a strong following in France, Pakistan, Senegal, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia. Then there are the pretenders, inspired by Mecca (which, sold in red and white cans and bottles, is quite blatantly modeled after Coke). Qibla Cola, brewed in Derby, UK, and Zamzam Cola, an Iranian drink named after a holy spring in Mecca, are also competing in the lucrative market of political alternatives to 'infidel' products.

"There's a strong love-hate relationship with America in the Muslim world," market researcher John Band told The Economist. He says with Mecca-Cola, Muslims "can drink an American-style drink while at the same time being subversive."

One can certainly think of more subversive things than switching cola brands, but many critics of imperialism and 'Coca-Colonization' are amused and intrigued by Mathlouthi's idea. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a growing number of European stores have been boycotting American imports. The Washington Post reports that, last year, a restaurant chain in Hamburg, Germany banned Marlboros, Budweiser and, yes, Coca-Cola. Also in 2003, an internal memo from advertising agency McCann-Erickson was leaked to the Daily Telegraph. The memo advised the agency's American multinational clients to play down their country of origin and that, in the future, U.S. companies should not "wrap their brands" in the national flag. Instead, it was suggested that they should stress their "strong local roots" in the community.

Emphasizing "local roots" is exactly what the Muslim-friendly clones are doing. Mecca-Cola even goes so far as to promise 20% of its net profits to charity--half of it to Palestinian and the other half to local charities. Although it is unclear which specific charities are involved, Mecca-Cola's website ( assures buyers that the money will only be donated to "associations who work towards peace in the world, and especially for peace in the conflict between Palestinians and fascist Zionist apartheid."

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has spoken out against this exploitation. The company recently released a statement dismissing Mathlouthi's brand, saying that 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."

Consumers like Mathlouthi's own son. "My son adores McDonald's and Coke," Mathlouthi revealed to the BBC. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur urged his 10-year-old not to patronize U.S. brands, which ultimately led to the invention of Mecca-Cola. "(My son) said to me, 'Papa, I agree not to drink Coke, but you have to give me something,'" says Mathlouthi. "That's how the idea was born."

Of course, the re-branding of Coke, one of America's most famous products, by a French businessman might well be a form of "sweet" revenge. For a few years now, the French have arguably had a chip on their shoulders after--in response to France's lack of support for the Iraq war--some U.S. restaurants renamed French fries to Freedom fries. Now a Frenchman is loosening a U.S. corporation's global chokehold on the cola market by launching a brand that, ironically, uses advertising slogans like "The Taste of Freedom."

And the political food industry isn't only limited to beverages. Those who sympathize with the plight of Palestinian farmers, for instance, can buy Zaytoun olive oil, harvested from groves on the West Bank. The Economist says that demand from importers has been strong for the oil. If this alternative market expanded its product range, many more consumers who love American-style foods, drinks and products, but not American politics, might jump ship.

So, what's next? Perhaps a MeccaDonald's serving juicy Hamasburgers and Jerusalemonade. Or a Ramadanny's diner chain selling super-sized egg, bacon and pancake platters named Grand Islam... the sky is the limit. The future could soon be filled with any number of politically motivated replicas of popular American household names. And as long as there are people who have an axe to grind with the United States, there's going to be a market for them.

Posted 11-29-2004 11:10 PM by Doug Casey
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