The Report: Sharjah 2021

Sharjah has one of the most diversified economies in the UAE, with a strong foundation in industry and manufacturing. Approximately 95.8% of its economic activity was derived from non-oil sectors in 2019, positioning the emirate to absorb much of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Sharjah is the UAE’s third-largest emirate, accounting for just over 3% of the country’s territory, and has long played an important cultural and economic role in the region. Home to six free zones, two amphitheatres, around 30 museums and various annual festivals that attract visitors from around the world, the emirate has a wide offering when it comes to manufacturing, commerce and culture. The discovery of oil in Sharjah resulted in an economic boom, but even at its early stages the emirate’s leadership understood the importance of developing a non-oil economy. In the intervening decades Sharjah has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at developing the economy and encouraging investment inflows.

This chapter contains a viewpoint with Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the UAE’s Supreme Council; and interviews with Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority; and Mohamed Al Musharakh, CEO, Invest in Sharjah.

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While the global economic slowdown in 2020 triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic put downward pressure on GDP growth in Sharjah, there is cautious hope for a rebound in 2021 and beyond, driven by social and economic development spending programmes, as well as a rapid Covid-19 vaccine rollout. Government spending has risen steadily, funding ambitious development goals in the emirate and the wider UAE, while the authorities have simultaneously implemented initiatives to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Roadshows and forums hosted by Invest in Sharjah are a central pillar of the government’s investment promotion strategy, with a historical focus on India, Russia, China, the GCC, the US, and European nations such as Italy and France. This chapter contains interviews with Sultan Abdullah bin Hadda Al Suwaidi, Chairman, Sharjah Economic Development Department; Badr Jafar, CEO, Crescent Enterprises; and Salem Yousef Al Qaseer, Chairman, Labour Standards Development Authority.

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Education & Health

With regular activities severely disrupted in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools in Sharjah had to shift quickly to online learning and integrate new health protocols when in-person instruction resumed. Rapid adoption helped the emirate maintain its position as a regional centre for education. Hospitals and clinics, meanwhile, devoted substantial resources to testing and care to fight the novel coronavirus. Priorities established before the pandemic, as well as lessons learned in 2020, are now shaping the education and health sectors in 2021. One of the primary short-term goals of the Sharjah authorities is to manage the pandemic, and ensure education and health services continue with minimal disruption. This chapter contains interviews with Muhadditha Al Hashimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Private Education Authority; and Abdulla Ali Al Mahyan, Chairman, Sharjah Health Authority.

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Tourism & Culture

Sharjah’s beaches, shopping centres, museums and unique cultural offering make the emirate a popular tourist destination for nationals and foreigners alike. While international travel slowed significantly in 2020 due to border closures and travel restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic tourism in Sharjah picked up as UAE residents explored destinations closer to home. Despite the disruption, the emirate inaugurated a number of projects in 2020, many of which promote sustainable tourism and position Sharjah as a family-friendly destination. Tourism authorities intend to build on this momentum and renew international interest throughout 2021 with the help of a new travel campaign, additional development projects, and the resumption of events and activities under strict health and safety protocols. These efforts, in tandem with the UAE’s rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, could see the tourism sector recover sooner than expected: Sharjah aims to attract 10m visitors in 2022. This chapter contains interviews with Khalid Jassim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority; Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director, Sharjah Art Foundation; and Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Chairperson, Environment and Protected Areas Authority.

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Financial Services

Sharjah’s financial services sector has grown steadily over the years, due in part to its quick response to changes, including the rapid adoption of international best banking practices. The banking industry has expanded its digital services, particularly in response to the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, putting it in a good position for future growth as the world transitions to a more digital economy. Meanwhile, the government of Sharjah’s acquisition of a majority stake in a local bank in 2019 could set the stage for additional strategic investments to strengthen the financial services sector further. While Sharjah does not have its own capital market, the emirate-level government and many local institutions have become regular issuers of debt and sukuk (Islamic bonds), with a number of sukuk sold in 2020 to raise financial support for the pandemic response. This chapter contains an interview with Ahmad Abu Eideh, CEO, United Arab Bank.

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Industry & Energy

Benefitting from a low cost base, and well-developed and connected infrastructure, Sharjah has become a key industrial player in the region. Indeed, the emirate is a significant contributor to the UAE’s total manufacturing output, accounting for around one-third of the sector. Meanwhile, in recent years the contribution of hydrocarbons production to GDP has remained comparatively small, representing around 4% of the emirate’s total GDP. This is thanks not only to a push to diversify the economy, but also higher levels of investment in and utilisation of renewable energy sources. This trend has enhanced the role that private service providers and independent power and water producers play in the power-generation segment. This chapter contains interviews with Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park; Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO, Bee’ah; Hatem Al Mosa, CEO, Sharjah National Oil Corporation; and Abdulwahab Al Sadoun, Secretary-General, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association.

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Transport & Logistics

Sharjah’s strategic location between Europe and southern Asia has enabled the emirate to become a central player in international transport and logistics networks. Its burgeoning manufacturing sector has the potential to increase import and export cargo volumes, leading to the creation of jobs. The importance of this was highlighted in the 2021 launch of the Sharjah Exports Development Centre, aimed at investing in and growing the emirate’s exports operations. Underpinned by several major highways and an expanding international airport, Sharjah has seen rising foreign investment and government spending on infrastructure in recent years, which is central to efforts to strengthen transport networks. This chapter contains interviews with Yousef Al Mutawa, CEO, Sharjah Sustainable City; Charles Menkhorst, CEO, Gulftainer; and Adel Abdullah Ali, Group CEO, Air Arabia.

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Construction & Real Estate

Sharjah has worked to brand itself as a unique location within the UAE and the wider GCC, which has resulted in an uptick in work for contractors as they try to close the gap in supply and demand for real estate, especially in the residential segment and for other family-friendly infrastructure. Although the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily disrupted the market, mixed-use developments that incorporate residential units, schools and retail outlets – along with leisure activities and green spaces – have been emerging to meet high demand. Unlike in years past, when demand largely came from those seeking more affordable alternatives to neighbouring emirates, much of the interest is coming from individuals and families who are drawn to Sharjah’s laid-back and authentic Arab culture. This chapter contains interviews with Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, CEO, Arada; and George Khouzami, COO, Al Thuriah Group.

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The Guide

The Guide contains listings of leading hotels and resorts in Sharjah for both business and leisure travellers, helpful information for new arrivals to the emirate and details on current visa requirements for tourists.

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