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The history of Arabic
Names and writing system
Arabic today by Viv Edwards
Today Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, where it is spoken by some 360 million people. It is also the language of religion for millions of Muslims in many other countries, including Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK.
The influence of various colonial powers is felt in different parts of the Arab world. In the Mahgreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, for instance, the political, economic and linguistic influence of France is still very much in evidence; Libya was ruled briefly by Italy; and British commercial interests were dominant in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine.
Speakers of Arabic in the UK fall into a number of groups. Longer-established communities include Yemeni in Birmingham, Newcastle and Cardiff, and Moroccans in the North Kensington and Ladbroke Grove areas of London.
In the oil-boom of the 1970s, significant numbers of Arabs arrived from the Gulf and set up businesses in the UK, living in some of the affluent areas of London. More recently, political turmoil in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine has given rise to growing numbers of refugees. Although no national statistics are available, a survey of London schoolchildren conducted in 2000 showed that Arabic was the seventh most commonly spoken language in the capital, used by 1.23 per cent of the school population.
The independent Arabic language newspaper Al Hayat is published in London with worldwide morning-of-publication distribution. The Kufa Gallery in Westbourne Grove is an important cultural centre, promoting Arabic arts in written and performance and visual form.