The Coca-Cola Bottling Plant



PR documentary, from the late 1940s or the early 1950s at the latest I would guess, on Coca Cola's bottling plant in Egypt. There's some great footage of upper class social club type people at the beginning and at the end, with a very modernist exposé on the state-of-the-art bottling facilities at the plant. If anything watch the last few minutes when the whole social club breaks into song.

It's worth remembering that the Coca-Cola Company, which built the Egypt bottling plant in 1945, faced an Arab-wide boycott between 1967 and 1979. Some Arab countries had started a boycott of Coca-Cola as early as 1951, while Coca-Cola for a while did not want to anger Arabs by doing business in Israel, earning the condemnation of the likes of the Anti-Defamation League, which launched a campaign in the US accusing the company of anti-Semitism. The anger of the American Jewish community forced Coca-Cola to open a Tel Aviv franchise in 1966, which resulted in an Arab League boycott in 1967. Aside from Egypt where Coke returned in 1979, most Arab countries were Coke-less until 1991 -- the contexts respectively being Camp David and the launch of the Middle East peace process with the Barcelona conference.

Coca-Cola continues to be the subject of frequent rumors because of the brand's strong identification with the US. I remember one when I arrived in Egypt in 2000, alleging that if you read the Coca-Cola label in a mirror it spelt out, in Arabic, "la Mohammed la Mekka" -- i.e. No Mohammed No Mecca". I tried it and must admit it's true there was some resemblance! Naturally, it's a coincidence.

This is not a dig at Coke (like most people my age I drink plenty of the stuff, although I've cut down as I started to have to think about things like empty calories - I can't stand Diet Coke) but the spread of bottled soft drinks in countries like Egypt has greatly reduced the number of traditional beverages that were once ubiquitously sold on the street.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.