Shunning Sharia Law: A Commercially Infeasible Campaign

The commercial opportunities of Sharia are only begining to be realised, and Britain in at the fore

In April 2014, many Western celebrities, among them, former NBC Tonight Show Host Jay Leno and Virgin Group Founder and CEO Richard Branson, took to the streets and tweets protesting the Brunei Investment Agency-backed Dorchester Hotel Group in response to the Sultan of Brunei’s announcement of stricter Sharia laws including imposing the death penalty for homosexuality. The Dorchester Hotel Group operates and manages 10 properties based around the world in such progressive havens as London, Los Angeles, and Paris. The global brand has admitted publicly that the onslaught of celebrity protests have adversely affected their bottom line. “We have had several cancellations since 17 April which has resulted in lost revenue. The economic impact extends beyond our doors and affects the community as well,” says a Dorchester Hotel Group representative.

Noticeably absent from the protest voices, however, are the political elites. The press gives no mention to comments from the Cameron-Clegg, Obama, or Holland administrations. Furthermore, members of the British Royal Family circumvented the celebrity sparked boycott to patron properties of the Sultan of Brunei in London, including the iconic Dorchester Hotel, as late as last week which undoubtedly weakens the campaign’s feasibility.

Boycotting the Dorchester Hotel Group has the potential of disrupting commercial relations with leading Sovereign Wealth Funds based in the Muslim world at a time when British Prime Minister David Cameron is bolstering Islamic Finance initiatives in London to sustain and expand the national economy in what can be still characterized as a recessionary climate. In October 2013, The City of London was host to the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum, making it the first city outside the Islamic world to serve as home to the event. During Cameron’s remarks to the audience of 1,800 political and business leaders from over 115 countries in attendance at the forum, he unabashedly mentioned, “[London] is the most open and inclusive capital on the planet – and the greatest centre for Islamic finance in the Western world”. London is indeed experiencing an Islamic capital boom from the Emirati marine terminal operator, Dubai World, whose London Gateway project on the north bank of the River Thames in Thurrock, Essex stands to create up to 12000 jobs, Ethiad investment in English Premiere League Manchester City FC, Malaysia’s £400 million investment in Battersea Power Station to the Qatari-backed Shard building London Bridge Quarter Development scheme, acquisition of upmarket department store, Harrods, and investment in Chelsea Barracks, the largest Islamic finance deal in European history.

As a result of this boom, the United Kingdom has more banks compliant with the principles of Islamic finance than any other Western country, and have over 25 law firms supplying services in Islamic finance and 16 universities or business schools offering MBAs or similar qualifications in Islamic finance, including the new Cambridge University Judge Business School programme for senior executives according to 10 Downing Street. In Cameron’s own words, he wants London to stand alongside Dubai and Kuala Lumpur as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the world.

The announcement of plans to issue London’s first Islamic bond in early 2014, worth initially £200m, is testament to the prime minister’s will and determination to bring his ambitions to market. Similarly across the pond, the United States is welcoming sources of Islamic investment. In 2013, Qatar bought U.S.-based Current TV for $500 million dollars–an investment that helped launch the American-arm of Al Jazeera. Three years prior to the Current TV purchase, Qatar’s real estate investment agency invested over $600 million dollars into Washington, D.C.’s $1 billion dollar mixed-use real estate development City Centre project. In March 2014, United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker led a second trade mission to the Middle East, visiting Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to recruit inward investment from and facilitate export opportunities to the Muslim world. During this mission, the

Secretary made a concerted effort to reach out to government leaders in Abu Dhabi to strengthen the U.S.-UAE commercial relationship, and to highlight the opportunities for Emirati companies to invest in the United States. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the UAE is currently the 19th largest source of foreign direct investment into the United States, with $21 billion in total stock. The U.S. administration shows no sign of curtailing its Middle East commercial missions according to its investment agency SelectUSA.

Islamic Foreign Investment and Sovereign Wealth Funds are immensely important to the revitalization of Western economies to the point of politicians muffling the cries of a few celebrities who can afford to patron elsewhere when our nations cannot. It is also important to underscore Dorchester Hotel Group Chief Executive Christopher Cowdray’s statement asserting the hotel group’s “[human resources and operating] policies are far removed from the politics of ownership”.

Penny Tilgham


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