London’s ‘Little Arabia’: Glitzy Knightsbridge has long been a playground for Gulf Arabs, but has the boom come to an end?

Knightsbridge
Updated 07 March 2018
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London’s ‘Little Arabia’: Glitzy Knightsbridge has long been a playground for Gulf Arabs, but has the boom come to an end?

LONDON: Nowadays Knightsbridge is famous for supercars, luxury shops and Gulf Arab visitors, but this was not always the case.
The district has evolved rapidly, swapping native residents for international newcomers, but what draws them to the area — and could it be losing its allure?
Othman Al-Omeir, a Saudi citizen, moved into an apartment near the famous department store Harrods in 1993, believes that it has already done so.
Before the streets of Knightsbridge were lined with Middle Eastern cafes and the gridlock of expensive cars, it had a very different feel, he recalls. Now a British national, Al-Omeir has seen Knightsbridge change from the stomping ground of upper-class English socialites, to becoming what he refers to as “a republic of the Gulf.”
“Knightsbridge in 1993 was more English … you didn’t hear another language, even a European language … and then suddenly it became very international. Seldom would you see English people there, except for visitors,” he added.
He moved to London in the 1970s, first living in Golders Green, then Marylebone High Street, Chiswick, Richmond and eventually Knightsbridge, as he rode the property wave. He was simultaneously scaling the media industry, and he was to found the Arab world’s first online newspaper, Elaph.com, in 2001.
When he first arrived London’s the Arab population was mostly to be found around Edgware Road and Oxford Street, because “most Saudis were coming to London to study or for medication in Harley Street (near Oxford Street) … but then Arabs moved to Mayfair … and then to Knightsbridge.”
Al-Omeir moved into Knightsbridge for reasons that are as relevant today as they were decades back: “The beauty of Knightsbridge is that it never changes from an architectural point of view. You can go to the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum), the Royal Albert Hall, many museums … and you have Hyde Park for walking. It’s an amazing place, and, of course, you are a neighbor of Her Majesty (the Queen of England) … who is not more than a thousand meters away.”
But change was looming for the refined London borough, and Al-Omeir first started noticing it in 2006. “Knightsbridge faced a kind of revolution … the Arabic cafes, shops and restaurants started opening up. You could see groups of Gulf Arabs walking around together.
“Knightsbridge then became a republic of the Gulf. You feel (as if you are) in the heart of Riyadh, Beirut or Dubai. It didn’t work for me for one reason: I enjoy being in London. If I want to go to the Middle East, I’ll go to the Middle East.”
The changes, the shops, the cafes, the people, the summer influx, the shisha smoking, the transformation into Little Arabia… it was all too much for Al-Omeir.
“When I came to London, I wanted to live in London, among Londoners,” he told Arab News. So, after 25 years in the area, he moved on. The media owner now lives in a stunning new-build block on the Strand, an area close to his cherished Fleet Street, once the center of the UK’s newspaper industry, back in “proper London.”
But Little Arabia is still popular with Gulf Arabs and is likely to remain so.
“What makes Knightsbridge so popular is the luxury ambiance the area brings from its high-end stores, brands and fine dining,” Adnan H. Omar, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Arabisk London Magazine, told Arab News.
“Also, I think it is fine to say that people, more often than not, like to surround themselves with their community, and in this case, Knightsbridge is that location,” Omar added.
But would he live in Knightsbridge?
“Personally, I would not reside in Knightsbridge, it feels more of a commercial and tourist area rather than a homely neighborhood,” Omar said.
Al-Omeir the best time to visit Knightsbridge is in winter, avoiding the summer’s supercar season, a sentiment most Londoners would be likely to agree with. However, as last summer’s supercar season was underwhelming, according to local café staff, it’s possible that Little Arabia may now be returning to quieter times.


Egypt probes images of naked couple atop pyramid

Updated 11 December 2018
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Egypt probes images of naked couple atop pyramid

  • Danish photographer Andreas Hvid appears to scale the 4,500-year-old tomb on the outskirts of Cairo at night with an unidentified woman who is later seen taking off her top

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have launched an investigation into images said to show a naked couple who scaled the Great Pyramid that has sparked outrage in the conservative Muslim country, an official said Tuesday.
In a video titled “Climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza,” Danish photographer Andreas Hvid appears to scale the 4,500-year-old tomb on the outskirts of Cairo at night with an unidentified woman who is later seen taking off her top.
Hvid says the video was taken in late November but it was published on YouTube on December 8.
A photograph released by Hvid appears to show the couple completely naked on top of each other while looking in the direction of a nearby pyramid with the horizon illuminated.
“The public prosecution is investigating the incident of the Danish photographer and the authenticity of the photos and video of him climbing the pyramid,” Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme antiquities council, told AFP.
If the video was actually filmed at the top of the pyramid, that would make it a “very serious crime,” Waziri said.
The nearly three-minute video has taken social media by storm and has been the subject of late night talk shows. It has notched up almost three million views on YouTube alone.
“A 7,000-year-old civilization has turned into a bed sheet,” a Twitter user in Egypt lamented.
Another protested that “they want to soil the dignity and pride of Egyptians because the pyramid reflects the glory and grandeur of the Egyptian people.”
The authenticity of the images has been disputed with some arguing the photograph showing the pair naked appears to be very bright whereas the video showed them scaling the pyramid at night.
Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told government newspaper Al-Ahram that the video has stirred “anger and outrage among Egyptians,” and that officials in charge of guarding the pyramids would be punished if found to have been negligent.
Hvid, 23, explained back home to the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet that he had “dreamed for many years of climbing the Great Pyramid” as well as of taking a naked photograph.
“I’m sad that so many people have got angry but I’ve also received a lot of positive responses from many Egyptians,” he said in an interview.
The young Norwegian, who runs his own YouTube channel, said he had absolutely no interest in stirring up a crisis such as that triggered by cartoons in Western newspapers of the Prophet Muhammad.
As for the girl in the video, she was not his girlfriend. “It was just a pose. We did not have sexual relations,” Hvid said.
The Great Pyramid, also known as the Khufu pyramid, is the largest in Giza, standing at 146 meters (480 feet) tall, and the only surviving structure of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
Climbing pyramids is forbidden in Egypt.
In 2016, a German tourist was barred from entering the country for life after he posted online footage of climbing one of the ancient structures.