The notable British Arabs making a difference

Notable Arabs - Arabs in the UK
8 min read
10 December, 2021
Arabs in the UK series: The New Arab profiles some of the noteworthy Arabs in Britain, taking stock of their achievements, and significance within their respective fields.

Although there is a long history of Arab people settling in the UK and contributing to art, culture, politics and food for many years, the British Arab population has only recently been recorded in the UK Census.

In 2011, 230,556 British citizens identified as Arab, and it became clear that the British Arab community was a diverse and multi-faceted one. 

The majority of the British Arab population is concentrated in London, but many Arab communities have also settled all across the UK.

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Now, there are British Arabs representing their communities in fields as varying as music, sport, science and politics.

To celebrate and highlight these achievements, The New Arab has compiled a list profiling a few of the prominent British Arab names that you should be aware of today:

Amal Clooney

Born in Lebanon, Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) is a British-Lebanese barrister who specialises in international law and human rights. She received an undergraduate degree in Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford and completed a Masters in Law at New York University.

She went on to practise in the US, before completing a judicial clerkship at The International Court of Justice. She was then based at The Hague, where she worked on several high-profile international human rights cases.

Amal Clooney -- AFP
Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) profile as a human rights lawyer has been since bolstered by her marriage to Hollywood actor George Clooney [Getty Images]

She has practised in the UK since 2010 and was appointed UK Special Envoy on Media freedom by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2019.

She has taught Law at several prestigious institutions, from Colombia School of Law to SOAS Law School. Alongside her husband, she founded a non-profit, the Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016.

Amir El-Masry

Born in Cairo and raised in London, Amir El-Masry is a prolific actor, with dozens of film and TV credits to his name.

With a long career of smaller roles, from walk-on parts in Star Wars to voice acting in the popular Assassin’s Creed video games, El-Masry has been making a name for himself for more than a decade.

Having starred opposite Tom Hiddleston in the hit series The Night Manager, he found himself starring in the critically-acclaimed Limbo, a 2020 film about the experiences of four asylum seekers living on a remote Scottish island. His performance was universally lauded and earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the 2020 British Independent Film Awards.

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Read The New Arab's review here: Limbo: A wry, heartfelt portrayal of asylum seekers stuck on a remote Scottish island 

Charles & Maurice Saatchi

Iraqi-born brothers Charles and Maurice Saatchi are internationally known businessmen, who co-founded the famous Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, which was the largest advertising agency in the world under their stewardship.

The brothers left the company in 1995, setting up the rival M&C Saatchi agency, which has also been successful. They also founded the Saatchi Shul, an independent Orthodox Jewish Synagogue in Maida Vale, in London.

Maurice Saatchi [pictured] and his brother Charles have been behind some of British politics most memorable advertising campaigns [Getty Images]
Maurice Saatchi [pictured] and his brother Charles have been behind some of British politics most memorable advertising campaigns [Getty Images]

Ella Al-Shamahi

Ella Al-Shamahi is an explorer, paleoanthropologist, evolutionary biologist, broadcaster and stand-up comic of Yemeni descent. She was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2015.

She is completing a PhD at University College London and specialises in the study of Neanderthals. She is also the presenter and producer of BBC2's Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors. She is a Trustee of the International Association for the Study of Arabia.

Ella is also an accomplished stand-up comic, having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival three times.

Jim Al-Khalili

Professor Jim Al-Khalili is an Iraqi-born theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster. He completed his degree in Physics at the University of Surrey, where he would stay to complete a PhD in nuclear reaction theory.

Jim Al-Khalili is a passionate communicator of science and has fronted several documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. He has also been featured on many radio programmes, and currently hosts The Life Scientific, where he interviews notable scientists.

He is a theoretical physicist at the University of Surrey where he holds a Distinguished Chair in physics as well as a university chair in the public engagement in science.

Jim Al-Khalili was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2021 for his services to science and public engagement in STEM.

Jim Al-Khalili has established himself as one of Britain's most popular and venerated scientists [Getty Images]
Jim Al-Khalili has established himself as one of Britain's most popular and venerated scientists [Getty Images]

Joudie Kalla

Joudie Kalla is a Palestinian-British chef and food writer. She studied Art History, Architecture and Design at Kingston University, but later trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London.

She went on to work at several Michelin-star restaurants before working on her own cookbooks. She is the author of two critically-acclaimed and prize-winning cookbooks, Palestine on a Plate: Memories from My Mother’s Kitchen and Baladi: A Celebration of Food from Land and Sea.

Her recipes celebrate her Palestinian heritage and have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera.

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Layla Michelle Moran

Layla Michelle Moran is a Liberal Democrat MP of Palestinian descent. She has served in the British Parliament as the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon since she was first elected in 2017.

She has served as the Liberal Democrat Spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Development since 2020 and is the first Parliamentarian to openly identify as pansexual.

She is a passionate advocate of reviewing the GCSE History curriculum in the UK which includes adding Britain’s colonial history.

Lowkey

Born Kareem Dennis in London, Lowkey is a British rapper and activist. He has been making music since he was a teenager, releasing a series of mixtapes before his debut album Dear Listener in 2008.

His sophomore record, Soundtrack to the Struggle highlighted several social justice issues and peaked at 14 on the UK Download Chart.

Between 2012 and 2016, Lowkey took a break from music to focus on studies and activism, becoming a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He returned to music after 2016, releasing a new album Soundtrack to the Struggle 2 in 2019.

Moe Sbihi

Moe Sbihi is a British rower and a three-time Olympian and Olympic medal winner. Born in Kingston upon Thames to a British mother and a Moroccan father, he has been competing in rowing competitions since the age of 15 and has won several Gold medals at the World Rowing Championships.

Mohamed Sbihi of Team Great Britain Men's Eight trains prior to competition on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games [Getty Images]
Mohamed Sbihi of Team Great Britain Men's Eight trains prior to competition on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games [Getty Images]

He first competed for Britain in the 2012 Olympics in London, where he won a Bronze medal in the men’s eight event. He went on to win a Gold medal in the coxless four event at the 2016 Rio Olympics and also competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where he became the first British Muslim to bear a British flag during the Olympic Games opening ceremony

Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum is a British-Palestinian multimedia and installation artist. Born in Beirut to Palestinian parents, she studied graphic design at Beirut University College.

She went on to study at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Her work is political in nature, focusing on themes of sexuality and identity, and often reflecting her Palestinian heritage and the experiences of the Palestinian people.

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Mustafa Suleyman

Born to a Syrian father and English mother, Mustafa Suleyman is the co-founder and former head of applied AI at DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company.

He grew up in London and met his future business partner Demis Hassabis at a grammar school in Barnet. Mustafa began a degree at the University of Oxford but later dropped out to set up a counselling service for young Muslims called the Muslim Youth Helpline.

Following this, he founded a consultancy firm, which led him to work with the United Nations.

Mustafa and his old school friend Demis co-founded DeepMind Technologies, an AI company that was bought by Google in 2014, and which was wholly owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc, in 2015.

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Dame Zaha Hadid 

Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi-born architect and designer. She was widely decorated and recognised as an influential and pioneering artist, whose work shaped popular architecture during the course of her career.

She is famous for having a style that is difficult to categorise, often referred to as a master of deconstructivist or abstractionist architecture.

Her buildings are found across the world and include the 2012 London Olympics Aquatics Centre, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Wangjing SOHO Tower in Beijing.

She was awarded a Damehood in 2012 and was awarded numerous honours and awards, and several more after she passed away in 2016, aged sixty-five.

Minouche Shafik

Nemat Talaat “Minouche” Shafik is a British Baroness, and a Member of the House of Lords, after being made a life peer in 2020.

She is unaffiliated with any political party. Her appointment to the House of Lords follows an illustrious career in finance.

She has a doctorate from the University of Oxford and has previously worked in a number of high profile roles including at the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the Bank of England.

Since September 2017, she has also served as the Director of the London School of Economics.

Roula Khalaf

Roula Khalaf was born in Beirut in Lebanon, and despite growing up during the civil war, went on to study in New York, earning a Master’s in International Affairs at Columbia University.

She embarked upon a career in news journalism, working for Forbes in New York, before becoming the North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times.

She has won a number of awards for her journalism including a Peace Through Media Award in 2009. She stayed at the Financial Times, becoming its Middle East Editor, and recently, the first female editor in the 131-year history of Financial Times. 

 

This article is part of a special series called Arabs in the UK: An exciting new project that sheds light on the Arab population in the United Kingdom and aims to showcase their continuing contributions to communities. Follow here to read more articles from this series: 

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