The Arab Sheikhs from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Dubai & Qatar whose oil millions once kept London’s nightclubs and casinos afloat are leaving Britain because they no longer feel as welcome as they used to. An anti-Arab backlash in the wake of September 11 and the Iraq war has driven many to European destinations such as Spain, Italy and France, which they say are more hospitable.
The dwindling presence of the jet set from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain UAE and other countries in the Gulf is affecting everything from luxury of the property market to the order takings of Middle Eastern restaurants in London.
“The Arabs that are leaving feel that London is extremely expensive in first place and secondly the Arabs are not welcome here,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al Quds. “There is an assumption that every Arab is a potential terrorist.”
Traditionally, used to come to London during summer to escape extreme temperatures at home. Many are now opting for cheaper European destinations.
Recently Saudi Sheikh Mustapha Edrees and his three sons decided to sell their 28-bedroom home Fernhill Park on the edge of Windsor Great Park, for £48 million reportedly because they want to spend more time at their Spanish ranch and apartment in Paris.
The Emir of Qatar is also putting his Mayfair house up for sale for £25 million, while other Middle Easterners are opting to spend their holidays in nearby Syria or Lebanon also.
The number of visitors to Britain from Saudi Arabia has fallen by 25% over two years. Their spending has dropped 30% to £140m in the same period. The problem has been exacerbated by the stumbling Saudi economy, which has failed to diversify from oil.
The fall-off in Arab business is most noticeable in areas such as Edgware Road, known as London’s Little Cairo because of its concentration of Middle Eastern restaurants.
The number of Arab customers smoking shisha pipes at the late-night cafes that line the road has dropped significantly. Houssam Eid, who runs a chain of Lebanese restaurants in UK, blames rising prices and a council crackdown on illegal short lets.
“A few years ago (Edgware Road) looked like the capital of any Arab country, you couldn’t tell if it was London,” said Eid. “The Arab people would sleep in the day and come out in the evening, but now, there aren’t as many people on the street after 11pm.”
Some of the richest Arabs are also downsizing in London. However, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum from Dubai is trying to add 10 acres around Berkeley Square in Mayfair to his £1 billion British property portfolio. He and his brother Sheikh Hamdan also dominate British flat racing through their Godolphin stable.
For many in the 1970s and 1980s, London provided a place to enjoy their wealth without being scrutinized by conservative mullahs. Arab newcomers sparked complaints from neighbors in Belgravia about limousines in the street and mountains of rubbish sacks stuffed with party debris.
“People had money they didn’t know what to do with,” said Magdi Ali, an Egyptian who drove for the Saudi Arabian embassy. “One sheikh used to carry a suitcase around with $100,000, which he used to throw at dancers.”
Gambling was popular, particularly during the oil boom. Prince Salam, governor of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, was reported to have lost £2m in three nights at Ladbrokes in the 1970s and would tip the waitresses in £100 chips.
This is not the first time Arabs have deserted London. After the first Gulf war in 1991, they adopted a lower profile and there were fewer Middle Eastern customers in smart shops and restaurants, but they gradually returned.
For now, Chinese gamblers have supplanted Arabs as the biggest spenders at the Connoisseur casino in Kensington High Street. According to one casino worker, the number of Arab customers is dwindling and younger Arabs are less flashy.
“I think the younger generation are more careful with their money than the older ones,” said the worker.
The number of Middle Eastern diners at Al-Hamra, a Lebanese restaurant in Mayfair favored by Saudi and Bahrainian royalty, has slumped by 85% this summer. Alex Fansa, the owner, said: “Magazines used to say, ‘The restaurant is very good, but don’t try to go in summer because it’s too busy, buzzing with flashy cars.’ Limousines were always parked outside, but we haven’t seen cars in those numbers for ages.”
More over destinations like Dubai offer a lot more or similar attractions for Arabs and so close at home. It has been seen that Arabs now are even going to excursions like Dubai Desert safari and adventures in the desert as well
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