Cultural Capital of The UAE – Aired December 2007

When you think of the United Arab Emirates, what is the first place that comes to mind?

Chances are, it’s not Sharjah. But this is about to change. Welcome to the new face of Arabia.

Sharjah is the Cultural Capital of the Arab World, an honour the rest of the emirates can’t claim. So while the rest of the UAE is breaking world records, Sharjah is quietly reveling in its respect for Islam and a strong focus on family life, which no amount of oil money can create.

What makes Sharjah a success story in the region?

How unique is the emirate’s development model?

What direction is the emirate headed for in terms of business and investment?

The time has come for the world to take notice. Join Asia Business Channel as we visit the emerging emirate of Sharjah.

Sharjah has rapidly developed from a small trading town in the beginning of the 20th century to a modern commercial centre and leisure destination in the UAE, whilst retaining its own distinct character and unique sense of tradition.

Sharjah is the third largest of the seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates, the federation formed on December 1971 which now comprises the sheikhdoms of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, and Ajman.

The UAE is one of the world’s richest and fastest-growing countries, and Asians will find a relatively well-balanced and stable environment with a high standard of living. While most businessmen and tourists flock to the capital, Abu Dhabi, or the modern city of Dubai, Sharjah comes as a pleasant surprise. For generations, Sharjah has welcomed visitors from all over the world. It is the new face of an emerging Arabia.

Sultan bin Ahmed al Qassimi is the Chairman of the Sharjah Commerce & Tourism Development Authority.

In spite of being home to the strictest laws in the UAE, it is far from being a very dry place.

Newcomers may adapt to living and working in Sharjah more easily than in the other emirates. It is less expensive in terms of accommodation and general cost of living, which has resulted in more people moving to Sharjah from Dubai over the last few years. But there is more to Sharjah than just cheap rent.

Sharjah is a major trading hub and manufacturing base despite, or some people say because of, the oil that has helped Abu Dhabi and Dubai to prosper so dramatically. Sharjah’s trade and manufacturing sector is doing very well at present, thanks in part to a lot of support and investment from its neighbour, Saudi Arabia.

Many foreign companies are now choosing Sharjah as a base for various offices and factories. Asians constitute a big part of Sharjah’s population, and are an integral component of a workforce that is driving the future of the economy.

Sharjah has an abundance of tourism activities for business travelers and residents alike. Here is Asia Business Channel’s guide to the best of the emirate’s escapes.

At number 5 is an abra ride along Khaled Lagoon. Watch Sharjah’s charming skyline on board one of the country’s most traditional forms of transportation.

Shopping therapy is on offer at the emirate’s biggest shopping mall, Sahara Centre, which is at number 4 on our list. It is a complete family destination.

Sharjah’s Heritage and Arts areas are at number 3. These make clear why the emirate is the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. We will give you an overview of the best museums and galleries later on in the program.

At number 2 is a walk along the corniche. The UAE can get unbearably hot, but at night, enjoy a cool breeze in a path that runs from the souk all the way to Ajman.

And what is Sharjah’s most popular tourist attraction? The Qanat al Qasba, the premier cultural, leisure and entertainment destination. Aside from its many restaurants and shops, it has the largest Ferris wheel in the region, the Eye of the Emirates.

Sharjah International Airport has more than 30 international airlines using its facility offering scheduled flights to over 200 destinations worldwide, with its highly efficient and comfortable passenger services. Ali Salem al Midfa is the Director of the Sharjah Airport Authority.

But with Dubai International Airport a short drive away, does Sharjah see this as competition?

Low-cost travel has come to the Middle East. Air Arabia is the pioneer in budget travel for the region. Launched in 2003, it provides a much-needed new concept in air travel and now flies to many destinations in Asia. What is the secret to the airline’s success?

With the foresight of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad al Qassimi, Sharjah has become one of the most important learning centres in the Middle East. His Highness’ extraordinary vision to bring education into the forefront has been an unqualified success.

The impressive University City, is comprised of magnificent places of learning including the Sharjah Institute of Technology and the American University of Sharjah.

Sharjah’s commitment to art, culture and preserving its heritage was internationally recognized in 1998 when UNESCO awarded the emirate “the cultural capital of the Arab world.” Sharjah today offers beautifully restored heritage areas and an impressive array of over 15 museums and art galleries.

Sue Underwood is the Director of Sharjah Museums Department.

Every museum tells its own tale. Short on time? Here are top five museums to visit.

At number 5 is the Sharjah Museum for the Art of Arabic Calligraphy and Ornamentation. The museum is a visual reference for the complexity of this Arabic artform and its historical and Islamic foundations.

The Sharjah Art Museum is at number 4. This is the largest art museum in the Gulf, with collections by local and visiting artists.

Learn about the changing environments experienced by Sharjah’s inhabitants over the years through a high-tech interactive experience. The Sharjah Archaeological Museum makes it to number 3.

At number 2 is the Islamic Museum, a splendid display of rare Islamic artifacts and masterpieces celebrating the cultural history of the Muslims.

And what tops our list? The Bait Al Naboodah. Step back in time to discover the architecture and lifestyle of a distinctive culture. See how in 50 years life in Sharjah has changed beyond recognition.

In the past few years, Sharjah has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors and is investing almost 100 million dollars in attracting tourists. This is to be allocated for the development of new hotels, shopping malls and entertainment facilities to meet a very high demand.

Within easy reach of Asia, Sharjah offers visitors the true essence of Arabia. With its surprising lack of ridiculously ambitious architecture and hyperstylized atmosphere that the UAE has become famous for, Sharjah is truly a breath of fresh air. This is the Arabian Gulf at its most genuine.