The Report: Sharjah 2017

Sharjah’s early efforts towards economic diversification have paid dividends, turning sectors such as heavy industries and transport and logistics into key enablers of economic growth. Meanwhile, the presence of several major universities in the emirate has helped grow its reputation as a major educational centre for the region.


With just over 3% of the territory of the UAE, Sharjah is one of the federation’s smaller emirates, yet it continues to punch above its weight in the realms of commerce and culture. Having long played an important cultural and economic role in the region, it is now home to three free zones, 16 museums and a number of annual festivals that draw visitors from around the world. The discovery of oil in Sharjah’s offshore Mubarak field in 1972 resulted in an economic boom, but even at that early stage the emirate’s leadership understood the importance of establishing a non-oil economy. The Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, created that year to broaden the range of economic activity taking place in the emirate, over subsequent decades oversaw development of a range of industries, including petrochemicals, textiles and leather, basic non-metals, foodstuffs and wood products.

This chapter contains a viewpoint from Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah and member of the UAE’s Supreme Council; and interviews with Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority; and Abdul Latif Al Zayani, Secretary-General, GCC.

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Among the most diversified economies in both the UAE and the wider GCC region, Sharjah has developed strong manufacturing, tourism and logistics industries, among other non-oil sectors. Against a backdrop of reduced oil prices and lower economic growth, local and federal authorities are working to develop the economy further through a range of measures intended to improve the business environment, attract more foreign investment and bolster government finances. Out of a UAE-wide GDP of Dh1.37trn ($373bn) in 2015, Sharjah’s portion reached Dh85.66bn ($23.6bn), or 6.3% of the total, making it the third-largest economy in the federation after Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

This chapter contains interviews with Khalifa Mohammed Al Kindi, Chairman, Central Bank of the UAE; Sheikh Khaled bin Abdullah bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman, Department of Seaports and Customs.

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In recent years the UAE has emerged as a centre for higher education within the GCC, with strong government initiatives, impressive infrastructure, a growing number of international collaborations and a multicultural student body. Within the federation, Sharjah is increasingly regarded as a key location for tertiary studies, home to its sprawling University City and two of the UAE’s most prestigious institutions, the University of Sharjah and the American University of Sharjah. Primary and secondary education in the emirate is meanwhile undergoing strong growth in both public and private schools, requiring investment and a re-evaluation of priorities.

This chapter contains an interview with Björn Kjerfve, Chancellor, American University of Sharjah.

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Tourism & Culture

Sharjah is a key regional destination for family and cultural tourism, attracting visitors particularly from the Gulf, Europe and Asia, and the industry is a substantial contributor to the local economy. Restaurants and hotels contributed Dh2.78bn ($756.7m) to the economy in 2015, up from Dh2.49bn ($677.8m) the previous year, reaching 3.2% of the emirate’s GDP. Sharjah is working to further expand the sector through a wide range of development projects, including efforts to develop niches such as resort, heritage, nature and adventure tourism in both Sharjah city and its environs, as well as the eastern parts of the emirate and Sir Bu Nuair Island.

This chapter contains interviews with Marwan Al Sarkal, CEO, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); and Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.

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Financial Services

Sharjah’s financial services sector has grown at an average rate of 12.7% per year over the past half decade to reach 10.3% of GDP in 2015, in line with the figure for the UAE as a whole. It primarily consists of four locally headquartered banks and two locally based insurance companies, though institutions based in other emirates are also active in the local market. Assets of locally headquartered banks contracted slightly in the first nine months of 2016 as non-performing loans in the small and medium-sized enterprise segment saw banks take provisions and scale back lending, but assets remained well above their 2014 levels, with profits recovering at some institutions that had suffered in 2015. Premiums and profits at locally headquartered insurance firms have meanwhile risen in recent years.

This chapter contains an interview with Ahmad Saad, Deputy CEO, Sharjah Islamic Bank.

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Industry & Energy

With limited oil and gas resources by regional standards, Sharjah has had to look to other sectors to build a robust and diversified economy. Chief among these has been industry and manufacturing, and the emirate has emerged as an important centre for industry in the Middle East, with the sector contributing around 17% of its GDP and around one-third of manufacturing activity in the UAE as a whole.

This chapter contains interviews with Abdullah Sultan Al Owais, Chairman, Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Majid Jafar, CEO, Crescent Petroleum.

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Infrastructure & Transport

As both a national and regional transport and logistics centre, Sharjah benefits from advantages such as strong connectivity to other emirates and the wider world. The only member of the UAE federation to border all other emirates, it has the UAE’s only container port located outside the Straits of Hormuz. The importance of this facility and the emirate’s transport and logistics industry as a whole could be boosted in the long term by plans to develop a regional rail network, while its airport continues to see rapid growth, boosted by its status as the main hub for the region’s largest low-cost airline.

This chapter contains interviews with Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, and Chairman, Federal Transport Authority; Adel Ali, CEO, Air Arabia; and Badr Jafar, CEO, Crescent Enterprises and Executive Chairman, Gulftainer.

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Home to the UAE’s largest Arabic-language newspaper, Al Khaleej, a growing number of local and regional television channels, popular radio stations, and a large publishing footprint in books and journals, Sharjah boasts a rich media environment. Despite all this, the establishment of media free zones in the federation’s two largest emirates in recent years – Dubai Media City and Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 – there has been a sense that Sharjah needs to up its game to continue to compete with its neighbours. To that end, the announcement in 2016 of a new media free zone to be built in Sharjah, along with plans for other media-friendly initiatives, has the potential to transform the emirate’s role in the UAE’s media landscape.

This chapter contains interviews with Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman, Sharjah Media Council; and Khalid Omar Al Midfa, General Director, Sharjah Media Corporation.

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Construction & Real Estate

As the third-largest economy of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Sharjah has a large population and a strategic location for regional connectivity, as well as significant real estate activity, all of which contribute towards an expanding construction sector. The emirate has several major real estate projects under construction, many of which are mixed-use developments that could have a big impact on the emirate’s property market. The opportunities available in Sharjah today have drawn the interest of many more companies from the rest of the UAE, and from other GCC countries, to get involved in the near future, further opening the emirate to outside investments.

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Already home to a number of modern health care facilities, the emirate is preparing for a strong push in the sector as it pursues its goal to become a centre of excellence in the UAE. Meanwhile, an ageing population and increasingly sedentary lifestyles are raising new health challenges that both the private and public sector are helping to address, led by the federal-level Ministry of Health and Prevention and the local-level regulator, the Sharjah Health Authority.

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The Guide

The guide contains listings of some of the leading local hotels and resorts and contacts for important government offices and services. It also contains useful tips and information for business and leisure visitors, first-time or regulars.

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