‘Feels like the Middle East’: Arab tourists in Paris face uncertainty
An elderly Saudi tourist said that Friday night’s deadly events seemed all too familiar
As Paris reels from the worst attacks in its recent history, which left at least 129 dead and hundreds wounded, most of the attractions in the city – long a popular haunt of Arab tourists – remain closed.
The day after seven coordinated attacks in the city, French police called on residents to remain cautious and avoid any form of travel “wherever possible,” Paris-based paper Le Monde reported. Most public facilities have been shuttered.
An elderly Saudi tourist walking on the central Champs-Elysées boulevard, a popular destination for holidaymakers, said that Friday night’s deadly events seemed all too familiar.
“I feel like we are in the Middle East right now,” said the tourist, who did not wish to be named. “It’s like a normal event for us. We’re not scared because we’re used to this.”
The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, famous for housing the Mona Lisa and other world-renowned artworks, as well as the popular Disneyland and Asterix theme parks, are not open. Many of the shops on the Champs-Elysées boulevard have been shuttered.
Most department stores, cinemas, Christmas markets, and sports facilities are closed. Sporting events have also been temporarily suspended.
“We are a little scared. We are scheduled to head back to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, but we don’t know if our flight will be cancelled,” said Abu Abdullah, another Saudi tourist.
“We learned through Twitter and family and friends. We had just arrived to the hotel from a day out and we began to receive calls from back home; people asking us if we were alright,” he said.
“We are in touch with our embassy in Paris and they warned us against going to areas on lockdown and to stay near our hotel.”
Abu Abdullah, along with his wife and son, are staying at a hotel on the Champs-Elysées boulevard.
Scared and confused
Many of the tourists Al Arabiya News spoke to were scared and confused by the situation and did not wish to be named. Many avoided requests for comment.
Another young couple with a child told Al Arabiya News that they did not feel threatened by the attacks. “It’s in God’s hands,” said the Omani man, who refused to be identified.
“We’re going to continue with our plans,“ his Saudi wife added.
Referring to the perceived threat of xenophobic attacks against people of Arab origins, the Omani man said: “We’re not worried. We didn’t anything wrong so we are not scared of being targeted.”
An elderly Saudi woman, who gave her name as Dr. Leila, said that she arrived in Paris yesterday, and is scheduled to leave in five days.
“We’re a little scared, but we know this area is safe,” she said. “We’re not going to change our plans, but it is a little frustrating that everything is closed.”
In some of the large retail outlets that remain open, private security guards stationed outside were checking shoppers’ bags.
“We are usually stationed in times of attacks. We are searching everyone’s bags and we don’t know until when we have to do this. We have to be vigilant,” said one of the guards.
An off-duty Emirati journalist, who was on his vacation, said that he has been “vigilant and cautious.”
He had been in touch with the UAE embassy, he added.
The reporter, who declined to give his name, said he was staying away from the affected sites, which include restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall, and the city’s main stadium.
A taxi driver, who preferred to go by his first name, Khaled, said business was a lot quieter than usual in the afternoon.
“My French customers did not speak about the tragedy at all. I saw the fear and the shock on their faces today. They had no words to describe the horror,” said Khaled.
(With additional reporting by Paul Crompton in Dubai)
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