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We were not involved...

A PROMINENT businessman has come forward to deny allegations that his company supplied anti-government protesters with free food during a month-long occupation of the GCC (Pearl) Roundabout. Jawad Group chief executive officer Faisal Jawad claimed the rumour was baseless and said his company was in no way involved with demonstrators. His group is now being boycotted by Bahrainis who disagreed with the protest movement, while some of his shops were vandalised during the height of unrest.

Mr Jawad said seven of his group's convenience stores were damaged and four had still not reopened.

"We had seven convenience stores damaged at the height of the crisis," Mr Jawad told the GDN.

"I think that when human temperature is high, people feel angry and maybe some people's anger was reflected in the damage to our stores.

"There were quite a few stories going around - rumours that somehow we, as a company, were involved in what was going on near the Central Market (in Manama).

"I can solemnly and categorically say with absolute confidence that we were not involved in any way in helping or supporting anyone who was there (at the GCC Roundabout)."

The businessman said he believed rumours of his company supplying free goods to protesters at the GCC Roundabout started because of the close proximity of one of the group's 24 Hours Market convenience stores, which he admitted enjoyed bumper sales in February and March.

However, he said he did not resent those now boycotting his company.

"We are not feeling bitter about it," he said.

Rumours

"There's no point reacting against these kind of rumours because, at the end of the day, we are a Bahrain-based company, we belong to this land and we're going to remain here forever."

While Mr Jawad's 24 Hours Market near the GCC Roundabout enjoyed impressive sales during the protests, other companies were not so lucky.

Anti-government protests caused massive disruption and left dozens of firms facing bankruptcy, according to the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses that rely on tourism were among the most affected, as expats were advised to leave Bahrain and visitors from Saudi Arabia were prevented from entering the country across the King Fahad Causeway.

Businesses in Manama were also hit as shoppers stayed away from the capital.

The GDN reported on Tuesday that 120 companies had complained to the BCCI about their "critical situation", while the chamber said dozens were facing bankruptcy.

Mr Jawad said his group had seen business drop by around a quarter compared to normal.

"At the moment in Bahrain, we are operating about 25 per cent down on what we usually would be at this time," he said.

"Maybe in the next couple of months, things will start getting back to normal."

Rumours of the Jawad Group's support of protesters has prompted an e-mail campaign calling for people to boycott the firm and asking its international partners to sever ties with the company, accusing it of supporting "terrorists".

The group owns the Bahrain franchises of several well-known international chains including Costa Coffee, Burger King, Monsoon, Accessorize, French Connection UK, BHS, Travelex, Avis, Mango, Shoe Citi, Chili's, Dairy Queen, Hush Puppies and Papa John's, among others.

Mr Jawad said he was aware of the campaign and admitted the company was taking it seriously.

"We took this e-mail very seriously because we are dealing with reputable companies worldwide and we did send a response to our principals, specifying that the content of this e-mail is false," he said.

"It is important for us to refute such allegations because the allegations in this e-mail and others were, as far as we're concerned, untrue.

"The good thing is that these reputable companies worldwide know who they're dealing with and they know that we are innocent until proven guilty."

Mr Jawad said his company, like others, had been hit hard - but added business was now improving.

"Speaking from our group's point of view, business has been affected to a great extent," he said.

In addition to his company being boycotted, Mr Jawad has also come in for criticism for a letter he wrote to the GDN, in which he attacked local media - saying its role in the Middle East was to protect "corrupt governments and not to say the truth and expose unlimited ill-gotten wealth".

The letter, published on March 1, also expressed support for the international media's reporting of events in Bahrain - angering many who felt foreign journalists had been guilty of distorting the facts.

Looking back, Mr Jawad admitted to feeling a certain amount of regret for airing his views.

Opinion

"I studied in the UK for about four or five years," he said.

"In the UK I was among people and a society in which, if you have an opinion, you can say it without fearing any repercussion because, regardless of what that opinion is, it is an opinion.

"When I wrote the note to the GDN, I thought that in 2011 we lived in a society that would allow people to share their opinion and that's why I wrote it.

"Maybe, though, people here are not ready for others to air their opinion and maybe in retrospect I regret writing that letter."

Meanwhile, Mr Jawad said he remained upbeat and predicted it could take as little as six months for Bahrain's business community to recover.

"I don't have a crystal ball in front of me so I could be wrong," he said.

"Like I said, I am very positively minded. Maybe it will take six months. I hope it won't even take that long, but it may take longer.

"I am a Bahraini and I am always confident about Bahrain. Bahrain is a great country and I'm sure it will bounce back."

He also revealed his company was already in talks with a French firm to launch a new venture in Bahrain, despite the current climate.

"We had a meeting with people from Paris with a view to starting up a new franchise in Bahrain," he explained.

"Obviously, if business does not improve over the next few weeks, it's not going to happen.

"But we are confident we have a good environment around us now and we have explained this to the client." thanratty@gdn.com.bh



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