Blessed Cola

He is doing the circuits around the world and has taken the pop market by storm, but will the man behind the new holy cola succeed?

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By  Massoud Derhally Published  February 4, 2003

|~||~||~|Tawfik Mathlouthi is a doer. He doesn’t like feeling helpless when it comes to the Palestinian conflict. As the situation and violence have intensified in the last two years, so has his resolve to do something. The French Tunisian, who is a lawyer, consultant, entrepreneur and owner of Radio Meditarranee in France decided to do something revolutionary — he launched Mecca Cola.

Mathlouthi doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to why is he is doing what he is doing. “The main reason is to help boycott American and Zionist goods and to give an alternative to Arab and Muslim consumers to let them have a choice to purchase neither this nor the other product,” he says.

The venture is about raising people’s consciousness and influencing consumers so that, “when they buy an American good they know they are helping American imperialism, which helps the crimes of the Zionist entity, and that they are giving money to kill their brothers,” says Mathlouthi.

Mecca Cola didn’t require a great deal of start up capital. Although it took less than US $23,000 to launch the new venture, Mathlouthi emphasises that money isn’t everything you need to have a successful venture. “You need to know how to communicate. I have been in communication for 15 years running a radio station in France and, in a few weeks, a television station,” he says.

Mecca Cola intends to sway public opinion. Mathlouthi wants to get those not already on the boycott bandwagon to think twice before they buy American products. The words ‘Don’t drink stupid, drink with commitment,’ are plastered all over the white and red bottles.

When asked what exactly the marketing message was, Mathlouthi says, “It means don’t spend your money in a stupid way and making the American economy stronger. We will maybe succeed in 10-15 years to cut help to Israel and maybe the American population will wake up and oblige its administration to stop giving money to those criminals who buy F-16s to kill civilians in Palestine.”

Cashing in on anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is not the only goal. The target market is wide and the two month-old company wants to capitalise on anti-American emotions globally.
“Our market is not only in Muslim or Arab countries. Our market is everywhere where people think that the Americans must stop this double standard in [their] foreign policies and helping criminals of Zionist entities,” says Mathlouthi.

The company has already started selling in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the UK, and Spain and will soon be in Scandinavian countries. The UAE will be the first country in the Middle East. In the past two months alone [November and December], Mecca Cola has sold 2 million bottles.

“We now have across the board 16 million bottles registered for delivery in the next two months. People all over the world are waiting for substitution products and if we offer them this solution, believe me some American companies will have to do a lot more to keep the markets they have,” says Mathlouthi.

Mathlouthi isn’t too concerned about giving Coca Cola or Pepsi a run for their money. He is not in it for the money he insists. “Coca Cola and Pepsi are not my problem. I don’t care about them. If they exist or not, it’s the same for me,” says Mathlouthi.
He intends to help Palestinians monetarily and influence Arabs, Muslims and anyone who feel strongly about American policies to buy his product.

“When they buy a product like ours they are helping their brothers because a part of our income is going directly to them,” he says.

The company will donate 10% of its net profits to any humanitarian organisation taking care of children in Palestine.
ZamZam Cola, an Iranian substitute that produces 2.5 billion cans annually, and named after the Zamzam holy spring water in Makkah doesn’t compare to Mecca Cola, says Mathlouthi. “ZamZam Cola does not give part of its profits to anybody; we were created to help people,” he says.

Mathlouthi is keen to state that he will be vigilant about which entities he supports in Palestine. He wants to minimise and avoid the possible accusations of Mecca Cola, “helping fighters or fundamentalists.” “We are going to send books, school material, clothes, and medicine; no money, just goods,” he says.

Mathlouthi is not worried about encountering problems because he is openly trying to help the Palestinians. “If you don’t do anything, you don’t encounter any problems,” he says. “If you want to live like a human being with dignity you must fight and encounter problems — that’s life,” he adds.

On the second day of Eid after Ramadan, Mathlouthi’s radio station was attacked and vandalised. But that only made him more determined and thick-skinned and he shrugged off the attack.

“We don’t care about them. By breaking things they have told us that we are on the right path,” he says. Surprisingly, there are those in the Arab and Muslim world who are not happy with the name of Mathlouthi’s new product.

But critics don’t get to Mathlouthi. “We don’t mind if they are happy or not. If they are not happy, that’s their problem not mine,” he says. “I am Muslim; I have the right to use any word in a good way and I am not using it for gambling, but to fight for justice and to fight for peace.” Massoud A. Derhally

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