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Why the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott could backfire

Sultan of Brunei

Demonstrators protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations.

Hollywood's concerns over the enactment of strict Islamic law in Brunei may fall on deaf ears.

Demonstrators gathered across the street from the historic Beverly Hills Hotel to protest against Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, who announced strict sharia law in his country would go into effect on May 1. Reports indicate the penal code provides for the imprisonment of those who miss Friday prayer, amputation of the limbs of robbers, and stoning to death of homosexuals.

The sultan owns the Dorchester Collection, a British company that runs--along with other hotels across Europe--the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air.

The Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles

The Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, owned by the Dorchester Collection.

"When this law became known, it started to spread on social media and within the celebrity community," says Sharon Waxman, founder of The Wrap. "What has happened is that this has boomeranged against the hotel."

Celebrity protestors include Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Branson, and Jay Leno. But despite all this star power backing the cause, the CEO of the Dorchester Group, Christopher Cowdray, released a statement saying that this boycott is misguided.

"He's trying to defend the interests of his hotel and his employees, which has nothing to do with the policy and laws being passed in Brunei," Waxman said. "And he has no power over that. That's his boss, that's his owner."

But the economic plea on Cowdray's part appears to have had no effect on the efforts of the boycott. As for the sultan himself, he has said nothing so far.

"He's in the economic position where he can say, 'I don't care,'" Waxman said.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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