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.


Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

Updated 20 September 2018
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Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

  • The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani
  • Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe

GENEVA: Members of a prominent tribe told an audience in Geneva on Thursday how they were stripped of their nationality and suffered torture, forced displacement and deportation in a 22-year campaign of systematic persecution by authorities in Qatar.
“My story is about wanting my rights, and I hope my story reaches your hearts,” said Hamed Al-Ghufrani, whose family was forced to flee Qatar for the UAE in 1996.
Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe, and had his nationality revoked in 2005. 
His 14-year-old son spoke of being a “stateless person” and called on the UN to end the persecution so he could return to Qatar.
The press conference at the Swiss Press Club, organized by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, came two days after the Al-Ghufran delegation staged a protest in front of the UN building in Geneva during the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir deposed the previous year by his son Hamad, father of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim.
About 800 Al-Ghufran families, more than 6,000 people, were stripped of their citizenship and had their property confiscated. Many remain stateless, both in Qatar and in neighboring Gulf countries.
“They have taken away our social, political and economic rights,” said
Jabir bin Saleh Al-Ghufrani, a tribal elder. “The Al-Ghufran tribe has been subjected to unjust treatment.
“I left on a vacation in 1996, and now I can never go back to my country. I can go to any place on this earth, but not my home, not Qatar.”
Members of the delegation produced passports, certificates and other documents to show that their right to Qatari citizenship was being denied.
“I ask for my rights. Our people have been asking for our rights for a very long time now and no one has even explained to us why this is happening to us,” said Hamad Khaled Al-Araq.
Jaber Hamad Al-Araq, the tribe member fired twice by Qatar Petroleum, said: “The consequences of revoking our citizenship came in waves. They took away health care, education and public services. They took away all the tools that would allow us to live in Qatar with dignity, as human beings.”
Many of the tribe have suffered from depression and other medical conditions as a result of their ill-treatment. “I was rejected many times for jobs because of the injustice we face,” said Jaber Mohamed Al-Ghufrani. “They would reject me, the interior ministry office would reject me, just for being from the tribe. We are marginalized, without value, and left on the sidelines in our own country.
“I am responsible for my family, consisting of my wife and children, and we have faced many injustices that led us to have psychological trauma. We have suffered enough.”
Abdul Hadi Jaber Al-Ghufrani, another member of the tribe, told the press conference: “All members of the Al-Ghufran tribe without exception suffered from the decision to revoke their nationality.
“Those who remained in Qatar are unable to work, travel, or act like normal human beings, they cannot trade, they cannot even give their identity.
“Those who were expelled and forcibly displaced live in exile. They cannot apply or work in any job where they can get money for they basic needs, and most of them have no official identity papers. They can no longer see their families and loved ones.
“We are here to demand our rights and we will not stop until we get our rights. From today for the next 20 years, we will not stop.”
The youngest member of the delegation, Mohammed Ali Amer Al-Ghufrani Al-Marri, 14, said: “My nationality was revoked when I was less than one year old.
“I did not have the right to grow up in my own country, I was not given the right to stay there. I wish to return to my country and enjoy my rights as a citizen.”