Shopping at Sainsbury's is on a par with adultery and theft, say clerics

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Since the supermarket chain Sainsbury's set up shop in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, earlier this year it has been doing a roaring trade. From a spanking glass-fronted building along Pyramids Road, complete with underground parking and sales staff in orange shirts, it offers cut-price goods 24 hours a day.

But the success of Egypt's first international supermarket has provoked the anger of local traders, who risk going out of business, as well as the wrath of local Muslim preachers.

Sainsbury's is now the subject of an unofficial fatwa issued by angry clerics, who are reported to believe that buying from the store is on a par with adultery, drug-trafficking and theft.

Veiled woman have been dispatched to knock on doors in the area and warn against buying from the "unbelievers". Preachers have suggested the store is trying to ruin the Egyptian economy and that shoppers who buy from it will "suffer on the Day of Judgement".

Some here say that Sainsbury's will raise its prices when it has succeeded in cornering the market. "Those unbelievers plan to send hundreds of our Muslim retailers to bankruptcy," one preacher told the Egyptian Mail. "This will spiral out of control once they realise the market is their own."

But the campaign against Sainsbury's, which offers everything from imported apples to toothpaste to household goods, appears to be having little effect.

The chain has found a hungry market. The shop was crowded with satisfied customers yesterday. "The prices are good and that's what I care about," said an ultra-religious woman, whose face was completely covered, and who was dressed from head to toe in black. "I don't care who owns it," said another, "it's cheap."

Khalid Abdul Aziz, a 38-year old man sporting the long robes and beard of the devoutly religious said: "I don't know who owns the shop. But its products are good."

A Sainsbury's spokesman at the store said the row was not affecting sales. "These sermons are coming from private mosques, not government-controlled ones," he said. "The government has told us they'll try to find out who has been making them."