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.


Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

Updated 22 June 2018
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Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

  • Children who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting
  • The study shows 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money

JEDDAH: Children recruited as fighters by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen are beaten into submission and face psychological abuse, as well as the risk of death, injury and disability, a former child soldier said on Friday.
Those who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting, he told the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV).
The child’s testimony is part of a documentary about the recruitment of children in Yemen, which was broadcast during the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Legal expert Lisa Al-Badawi highlighted efforts to rehabilitate former child soldiers and children affected by the war in Yemen.
She said children make up a third of fighters in the Houthi militias, according to a field study by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation.
The study showed that 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money amid deteriorating economic conditions, while just 10 percent join Houthi ranks for “ideological reasons.”
Al-Badawi revealed numerous human rights violations faced by the recruits, including the risk of death and injury, deprivation of education, and exposure to sexual and psychological abuse.
She also discussed the methods used to treat and rehabilitate these children, emphasizing the importance of promoting awareness among parents.
She presented statistics on the areas covered by the rehabilitation process, which is carried out with support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said he is not surprised by the Houthis’ large-scale recruitment of children.
“By devious design, they push children onto the frontlines so that when the children become victims, the Houthis can cry foul and blame the legitimate Yemeni government for killing children,” he told Arab News.
“These are terrorist militias, and like all terrorists, they have no qualms about playing with the lives of children.”
It is easy for the militias to brainwash children, Al-Shehri said. “Grown people are difficult to convince, but children become easy prey,” he added.
“In most cases, the Houthis don’t even tell children that they’re going to the frontlines. They lure them by saying they’ll be helping their men.”
Now that the Houthis have been cornered in Hodeidah, they will use children and the civilian population as human shields, Al-Shehri said, asking: “What can we expect from such terrorists?”
Meanwhile, the Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the UN, according to sources quoted by Reuters. The port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen.
This week, UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to try to negotiate a solution.
The source, quoted by Reuters, said the Houthis indicated that they would accept overall UN management and inspections of the port.
A Western diplomat said the UN would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is that Yemeni state employees will work alongside the UN.
Griffiths on Thursday said he was “encouraged by the constructive engagement” of the Houthis, and will be holding meetings with Yemen’s internationally backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Speaking earlier at the UN, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi reiterated the Saudi-led coalition’s demand that the Houthis quit the city of Hodeidah entirely.
“What we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and to leave, to leave peacefully, and to provide information about the locations of mines and improvised explosive devices,” he said.