• Short Summary

    For the past century Britain has played a dominant role in the Middle East, traditionally sending more people to that area than it received in return.

  • Description

    For the past century Britain has played a dominant role in the Middle East, traditionally sending more people to that area than it received in return. But now the tables have turned. Bemused Londoners look on as hundreds of thousands of Arabs from all Middle East states make their presence felt in the British capital.
    Friday lunchtime in Regent's Park, it's not unusual to see a Moslem leap out of a Rolls Royce to kneel on the pavement. He joins hundreds of others in prayers outside the temporary mosque which has been too small to accommodate all of London's moslems.
    When they come to London the Arabs bring their relatives, their religion and their money. A conservative estimate by the British Tourist Authority puts their spending here last year at 106 million pounds; the number of tourists at more than 280,000. This year with the collapse of Beirut in the Lebanese civil war the figures have increased sharply.
    Until last summer, the Saudis, Kuwaiti and Gulf Arabs traditionally spent their summers in the cool mountains of Lebanon. Now they escape their scorching hot summers by coming to London, though this year they've brought their weather with them. In the 60s it was the Americans who were the big spenders. Now they arrive on package holidays and the Arabs emerge as the big tourists of the 70s.
    They also look like settling in London. This year they bought the famous Dorchester Hotel for nine million pounds. Other purchases of some of the capital's most prestigious and expensive properties followed. Then they bought Fort Belvedere, a favourite home of King Edward the Eighth before his abdication.
    The Middle Eastern infiltration of British tradition is even more marked when it comes to trade and commerce. An Arab tailor has set up shop in famous Savile Row selling, of course, only the best English cloth.
    And for any Arab longing for a taste of the old country, a host of Middle East restaurants are springing up in London.
    With the collapse of Beirut several Arab banks have opened in London. And it's all big business.
    Some observers now claim if it wasn't for Arab money the British economy would collapse. But whether true or not, no-one on the stock exchange is complaining.
    One thing is certain; when it comes to investment the Arabs are discreet. But a London Arab newspaper keeps them informed of each others' activities.
    The Arab presence has a strong note of permanence. They're building their own Mecca in Regent's Park to replace the temporary shelter beside it where they pray now. Wealthy residents in the exclusive area have been assured that no nuisance will be caused from the top of the minaret. But the early morning call of the wailing muezzin includes the line "Prayer is better than sleep". When completed the four million pound building will not only be one of the greatest mosques in the west but also in the Islam world.

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    Media URN:
    Reuters - Including Visnews
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    Available on request
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