In defence of Edgware Road: London’s ‘Arab street’
Ask anyone who lives outside of London to name some of the city’s famous places, they might say Oxford Street, Chelsea, Mayfair or maybe Camden.
Few will name Edgware Road, the multicultural district known to Londoners as Little Cairo, Little Beirut or Little Arabia because of the large number of Middle Eastern eateries and businesses located there.
The street, which lies between Marble Arch and the Marylebone flyover, was recently the subject of a social media post by far-right activist Katie Hopkins, who posted a video of Edgware Road in an apparent criticism of its cosmopolitan character.
But instead of incensing social media users, the video, which has been viewed more than one million times, has had the opposite effect. It drew attention to an area of London that is often overlooked in favour of the city’s more famous hot spots. Comments on the Twitter post asked where could they find this place with such a large selection of Middle Eastern restaurants?
Of course, the charms of Edgware Road are no secret to those who live and work on the street, including Londoner Alicia, who works at Lebanese café Al Arez.
“I grew up round here and I just love it. The atmosphere has always been multicultural, the food is amazing,” Alicia told The National.
“Unlike some of the areas nearby, everything is open until all hours of the morning. There’s always something to do on Edgware Road.”
Kuwaiti-born Amer, who manages the Palm Palace shisha café, moved to Edgware Road over 20 years ago. He said tourists come from all over the world to experience a taste of the Arab world in London.
“It’s not only Arabs that come here, it’s people from all over London," he said. "We get a lot of tourists from the Middle East but also from Europe thanks to the central location between Oxford Street and Paddington. We’re also extremely close to Hyde Park."
Chris Doyle, director of the Caabu Council for Arab-British Understanding, traces Edgware Road’s Middle Eastern links back to the 19th century when immigrants from the Ottoman Empire began settling in the city. Waves of migration from the 1950s onwards brought immigrants from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria to British capital.
“Edgware Road tended to be the area that Arab immigrants veered towards before eventually migrating out to more outer areas of London like Ealing, Acton and others. It’s established itself as the epicentre of Arab and Middle East cuisine in London,” Mr Doyle told The National.
As for the area’s foreign influences, the actual road itself, which stretches all the way to the outskirts of north west London, was built during the Roman Empire.
“Edgware Road has added to the diversity of life in London, and the richness of the city both culturally and ethnically,” said Mr Doyle, who works to promote better understanding of Arab cultures in Britain. “I think London would be poorer without it.”