LONDON: Arab students from seven universities gathered for the first time in two years in London to celebrate their heritage and cultural diversity, while raising money for eye surgeries in Yemen.
“We have such a strong community here in all the different London universities and universities outside, so it really shows that no matter any politics, any religion, we come together because we share a love for our culture and a love for our countries and that’s what’s most important,” Ayah Magdi El-Hanafi, co-president of Queen Mary Arab Society, told Arab News.
The 20-year-old environmental science major, who is of Egyptian Tunisian descent, said the event was also open to non-Arabs and people from different backgrounds.
“We’re not keeping it to ourselves. We want everyone to share and love our culture the way we do,” she added.
The London native, who said she longs to feel close to her heritage, was “amazed and glad” to see Arab students “reaching out to the UK” and sharing their culture with born and bred Britons.
About 400 students, from Saudi Arabia to Algeria, with a variety of different accents, flooded the prestigious Porchester Hall in central London, representing their different ethnicities and backgrounds.
The annual intercollegiate event was sponsored by the UK-based London Arabia Organization, a nonprofit company that aims to strengthen cultural ties between London and the Arab world. It included Arab societies from Queen Mary, King’s College, University College London, London School of Economics, Westminster, Kingston and City universities.
This year’s Arab Ball is the biggest one yet, Yunus El-Asri, organizer and vice president of QMUL Arab Society, said, with more people and societies getting involved, in line with their general social, charity and educational events that aim to bring the Middle Eastern community together in the UK capital.
“This year, for the first time, we’re also running it as a nonprofit and all profits from this year are going to a charity called UCAN (Uniting Communities of Africa’s North) that provides cataract surgeries in Yemen to cure people who can’t see,” Moroccan mechanical engineering student El-Asri, 21, said.
20-year-old Moroccan Kurdish Shirin Sirdi, the Queen Mary’s Arab Ball officer, said that though the majority of students at the event were born in London, she was proud to see so many come from abroad, especially Arab women, who were dressed in glittery gowns, traditional dresses, and stylish, colorful suits.
“The majority of the members of our society from Queen Mary’s are actually women, and more often than not, it’s events like these that give people a chance to dress up and come and meet new people,” Sirdi, who is studying international relations, said.
“Something like this doesn’t come often and it’s really hard to get so many Arabs in one room. But it’s just fantastic to see everyone excited, singing Arab songs, dancing to Arab music, enjoying Arabic food, and all in the heart of London. We’re very, very happy that we managed to organize something to this scale as well,” said Faris El-Sayad, 21, originally from Egypt.
The fourth-year dentistry student said that it is important to bring Arabs together where they can enjoy themselves and some great food, but also remember their cultures and origins, and support people in Yemen.
Psychology student Aisha Qadi, 20, from Saudi Arabia, said that the event provided a “wonderful opportunity” to see hundreds of Arab students far away from home.
“Coming to the UK as well, you don’t see many Arabs in the community, so in this event, bringing all the Arabs, not just from one university, but so many different universities, just gives us that closeness and we feel like we’re back home,” said Qadi, who is also a member of the Arab Ball Committee.
Eritrean Hassan Yassin Bushnag, 20, co-president of QMUL Arab Society, said charity is an important aspect not only in Arab culture, but also in Islam, so raising money for a good cause was “essential.”
Although not Arab, Bushnag’s parents grew up in Saudi Arabia and he feels passionate about Arab culture, and wants to show people that he has embraced it.
“There’s quite a bit of stigma against the Arab community, and I just wanted to show that there are better parts to Arab culture, me being someone that’s embraced it and kind of shown it,” said the biology student.