Britain and the Arab world have been trading partners since medieval times, with merchants travelling to London on business. Yemeni sailors lived around the docks from the second half of the 19th century.
Iraqis have been settling in London since the 1930s, most recently to escape political oppression.
In the 1970s, owing to war in the Lebanon, London became the centre of the Arab press. Today the largest Arab communities in London come from Somalia, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.
The Arab League currently includes 22 Near and Middle Eastern and North African countries. Most Arabs are Muslims, speak Arabic, and are descended from the original settlers of the Arabian peninsula.
Modern Standard Arabic is the official written language of the Arab world. However, Egyptian Arabic is the most universally understood spoken version, since Egypt produces the majority of Arab films and television programmes.
Iran is not an Arab country, as Persians are of a different ethnic origin and Persian is their official language.
There has been contact between Britain and the Arab world from medieval times. Crusades to the Holy Land and Muslim culture in Spain introduced Arab mechanical ideas to Europe. The knowledge the crusaders brought back was also significant in sparking off the Renaissance from the end of the 14th century.
From the 1580s, trade between Britain and the Middle East brought ‘Mahometans’ from the Ottoman empire to London. There are references to such figures in Shakespeare’s plays and other literary works. These people were mainly merchants who stayed for only short periods.
Sailors living around the London docks during the second half of the 19th century included Yemenis, some of whom married London women.
South Yemen became a British protectorate in 1905 and Yemeni seamen contributed to the British effort during World Wars I and II. However, by the end of the 1950s, the Merchant Navy was in decline and they sought onshore employment.
Iraqi settlement in London dates back to the 1930s, when the Christian Assyrian sect began to arrive in Britain. They now have their own church in Ealing. After World War II, skilled and professional Iraqis settled in Britain, some pushed by the effects of the 1958 revolution.
A number of Palestinians arrived in London following the creation of Israel in 1948. General Arab migration to Britain increased during the 1950s and 1960s as the Arab world struggled to emerge from the era of colonialism. Most countries were economically underdeveloped and politically unstable.
The economic boom following the 1973 oil crisis was coupled with continuing political uncertainty in parts of the Middle East. This led many to seek a new life and investment opportunities in London.
Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians, mainly from middle and upper class backgrounds, arrived. They brought with them capital and expertise leading to the proliferation of businesses.
Beirut, once hub of the Arab press, was badly affected from the 1970s by the Lebanese civil war, and London became the new centre for Arabic language newspapers. Al Jazeera English, the Arabic-run English language current affairs channel, now broadcasts from London.
Meanwhile Kurdish and Shi’a Iraqis fled political persecution in the 1970s and 1980s and a discernible Iraqi community began to emerge. It consisted, however, of groups with different political and religious views.
The Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) was established in London in 1967 to foster links between Britain and the Arab world.
The 2001 census found that over 106,000 Arabs lived in the capital. According to research by Professor Madawi Al Rasheed, they tend to fall into one of four categories 'The wealthy Arab migrants, the professionals, the migrant workers, and the refugees'.
The largest communities are from Somalia, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco. The Al-Fayed brothers, proprietors of Harrods, are London's best known Egyptian residents.
Large numbers of people from the Arab League work in London's wholesale and retail trades, real estate and renting sectors, and hotels and restaurants.
There is a considerable Arab population in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. The Edgware Road has also become a focus for Arab businesses and restaurants.