| Businessman Tawfiq Mathlouthi with his creation, Mecca Cola, in Paris. (Reuters)
Mecca Cola's red and white label, its fizz and dark, sweet taste make it startlingly similar to Coke. But Mecca Cola is far from the Real Thing.
It is, said its creator, a “rejection of American politics, imperialism and hegemony and a protest against the Zionist crime financed and supported by America”. Two million bottles have been sold since it was launched two months ago in France and orders are pouring in from around the world.
“I got faxes last night from China and Australia and we’ve got many deals in North Africa,” said Tawfik Mathlouthi, a French radio journalist who founded the Mecca Cola company. “People are thirsty for a way to stand up to American hypocrisy.”
In the heavily Muslim northern districts of Paris, Mecca Cola is sold for £1.05 per 1.5 litre bottle, about the same as Coke. It is gradually penetrating the mainstream supermarkets. M Mathlouthi has orders for 11 million bottles and is building his own manufacturing and bottling plant near Paris.
“I had the idea in the shower one day,” he said. “What is the point in complaining about America all the time if you then go out and help its economy by buying American products' I felt it was time to give people a choice not to buy American goods and cola is a symbol of American economic power.”
Other firms in West Asia have tried creating different cola drinks, he said, notably Iran’s Zam Zam Cola. But none has turned its drink into a political weapon. “Mecca Cola is not just a drink,” said M Mathlouthi. “It is an act of protest against Bush and Rumsfeld and their policies.”
M Mathlouthi, 46, was born in Tunisia but moved to France in 1977 and is now a French citizen. He qualified as a lawyer but made his name as a broadcaster on Radio Mediterranee, based in Paris. Once he thought of creating an alternative cola, he worked with scientists for months to ensure the taste was decent before going into production.
He has sunk £100,000 of his own money into the project and expects to make a profit by the middle of this year. He has promised to give away 20 per cent of Mecca Cola’s profits, half to support Palestinian children and half to other charitable organisations. He said he would keep a careful eye on the money to ensure that none of it went to armed combatants. M Mathlouthi hopes to benefit from boycotts of American brands in many Arab countries. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken have all suffered.