Muslims Flex Their Market Muscle

Government officials have accused the buxom, blonde Barbie of sneaking in Western influences with make-up and revealing clothes and violating traditional Iranian values. Earlier this year officials launched a campaign to confiscate all U.S.-made Barbie dolls in the country.

In Barbie's place, Iranian children have been offered Dara and Sara, a set of boy and girl twins who come with modest clothing and cannot be undressed. They come with accessories like calendars, posters, and headscarves, as well as stories on cassette promoting their pro-family backgrounds.

Experts say Muslim consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the power of their pocketbooks, and anti-American sentiment is boosting sales of not only Islamic goods, but European and Asian goods.

"The market is very open in the Middle East. People see that they have the freedom and choice to choose from a variety of products [from all over the world]," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Awad said he's heard of European appliances and Japanese cars getting a boost. Muslims are also choosing to avoid U.S.-made pharmaceuticals. Hospital and dispensaries run by Palestinian militant group Hezbollah reportedly even have a complete list of alternative medicines produced in Arab, European or other countries.

Customer Knows Best

Other products have capitalized on the Muslim market not so much by rejecting the West as by appealing to the Muslim consumer.

Bankers have discovered an emerging market for Islamic financial products, which invest according to Muslim values, or according to the Koran's Shari'ah law, which prohibits lending money for interest.

According to the Financial Times, this market is estimated to be worth at least $150 billion a year and is growing at 10 percent to 15 percent annually. HSBC Investment Bank has created a Global Islamic Finance Department.

Youshaa Patel, a representative for the Dow Jones Islamic Index, says his mutual fund invests in "no alcohol, no tobacco, no pornography, no weapons."

"We definitely see an interest," he said. "Generally speaking, we see a growing market overall."

Meanwhile, in Egypt this year, junk-food merchants have found a way to add value to their products by associating themselves with the Palestinian cause.

Earlier this year, as tensions in next-door Israel heated up, Egyptian storekeepers started stocking snack chips with names like "Abu Ammar" and "Hero."

"Abu Ammar" is named after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's nom du guerre, and comes bagged in the colors of the Palestinian flag — red, green, and black — with a picture of Arafat himself.

"The Hero" is bagged with an image of a schoolboy holding a stone in his right hand and books in the other as he confronts an Israeli tank.

The manufacturer of "Abu Ammar" promises to donate a portion of all proceeds to support the "Palestinian cause."

Every Man For Himself

Even if companies have no interest in the Muslim market, they are finding it harder to avoid its influence.

Muslim groups are currently boycotting as many as two-dozen multinational companies, such as Sara Lee, for alleged pro-Israeli bias. Sara Lee said it had not seen any impact from the boycott.

Muslim groups have recently been concentrating their fury on coffee chain Starbucks, accusing its chief executive, Howard Shultz, of being "an active Zionist" and a "propagandist for Israel."

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