How McDonald’s Became a Political Symbol in the Middle East


How McDonald’s Became a Political Symbol in the Middle East
© Getty Images News/Justin Sullivan

In the volatile landscape of international relations, few would consider McDonald’s - the emblematic American fast-food chain - to be an influencer. Yet, the brand has found itself embroiled in the thick of political unrest and discord.

A Theory Challenged

In the late 1990s, Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator Thomas Friedman introduced what he termed the 'Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention' He posited that no two countries hosting McDonald’s outlets would ever engage in war against each other.

Fast forward to the present, and this theory appears to be unraveling. The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas underscores this point. Rather than being a mere observer, McDonald’s has become a participant, albeit indirectly, in the discord.

Tensions soared when McDonald’s Israel decided to provide free meals to the Israeli military. This act was not received well by other franchisees in the Middle East.

Divided Loyalties

McDonald’s branches in several Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey, swiftly took a stand.

They collectively pledged over $3 million to aid Palestinians in Gaza, marking a pronounced split from the position of their Israeli counterpart. McDonald’s Oman encapsulated the sentiments of many when it took to social media, stating, “Let us all combine our efforts and support the community in Gaza with everything we can,” and further expressing wishes for the safety and protection of all Arab and Muslim nations.

The public outcry from Arab and Muslim consumers was palpable. In a bid to stave off the backlash, McDonald’s Israel made its Instagram account private. It's worth noting that while McDonald’s doesn't have any outlets in Gaza or the occupied West Bank, the brand does exist in Lebanon, a nation that has seen conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah.

A Reflective Microcosm

Paul Musgrave, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, remarked, “We’re in a post-‘Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention’ world now”.

He went on to highlight the irony of how conflicts within the McDonald’s corporate sphere are echoing the very real tensions in the regions they serve. This incident underscores that global brands like McDonald’s aren't merely about business; they're intertwined with regional sentiments, loyalties, and conflicts.

Indeed, this isn't the first instance where an international brand has found itself entangled in the intricate web of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a world of globalization, where business and politics often collide, brands must tread carefully, understanding that their actions reverberate far beyond the confines of corporate boardrooms.