A boycott of French goods in Kuwait and Qatar is gathering momentum in reaction to popular disquiet at President Emmanuel Macron’s crackdown on radical Islamism.
Calls for Muslims to stop buying French produce have been escalating across social media, prompting supermarket chains in the two conservative Gulf states to pull items from their shelves.
Earlier this month, Mr Macron denounced “separatism” in France, and announced plans for strict new controls on religious, cultural and sporting associations.
Following the murder on October 16 of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a class about freedom of expression, Gérald Darmanin, French interior minister, proposed a ban on several organisations deemed “separatist”.
On Sunday, the French foreign ministry recalled its ambassador in Ankara a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Mr Macron needed mental treatment over his attitude towards Muslims.
The ministry said that Turkey, after failing to condemn the murder of the teacher, had engaged in “slanderous propaganda” against France and “direct insults” against the president. “This behaviour is unacceptable, especially on the part of an allied country,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, foreign affairs minister.
Tension between the two Nato allies had flared before this latest spat. France supported Greece in its confrontation with Turkey over hydrocarbon rights in the eastern Mediterranean, while Paris and Ankara have backed opposing sides in the Libyan civil war.
Now, Mr Macron’s drive to clamp down on Islamists in France has sparked a wave of anger in the Middle East.
“For the messenger of God, no to French products,” read signs above refrigerators cleared of French butter in Kuwait. Social media users also posted pictures of Mr Macron with a footprint on his face below Quranic verses promising “painful punishment” for those who abuse the Prophet.
Hashtags such as “boycott French goods” and “our Prophet is a red line” have been trending, with infographics targeting dozens of popular French brands, from President dairy and Evian mineral water to Peugeot cars and Cartier jewellery.
Dozens of Kuwaiti co-operative stores, which account for most grocery sales, removed French products over the weekend. There was also a small protest outside Kuwait’s parliament.
In Qatar, a close French ally, bans on French goods were announced by supermarket chains such as Al Meera and Souq Al Baladi, which compete with French outlets Carrefour and Monoprix in the gas-rich state. Qatar University indefinitely postponed its French cultural week because of the “deliberate abuse of Islam and its symbols”.
The campaign echoes the boycott of Danish products in 2006 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet.
In Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s largest market, calls to boycott French goods were trending on Sunday, though there was no indication that stores were responding to the online agitation.
The kingdom, which has imposed a three-year embargo of neighbouring Qatar, has in recent weeks introduced an informal ban on Turkish goods amid tension with Ankara, Doha’s strongest regional ally, over policies that promote Islamist movements around the region.
One French official in the Gulf downplayed the potential impact of the boycott. Previous campaigns have proved to be shortlived, the official said.
The governments in Kuwait City and Doha have not commented on the emerging public discontent.
But Kuwait’s foreign ministry has expressed its dismay at the circulation of caricatures of the Prophet, warning that “such acts instigate hatred”.