Q: In what ways, if at all, was Sharjah affected by the 2008 global financial crisis, and how tied are you to the economic climate elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates [UAE]?
A: The whole UAE is connected with the federal law, so whatever the federal government is setting when it comes to rules and regulation, is implemented in all seven emirates. We do believe that in the coming years the economy [will recover] but it will not be as it used to be in 2007 or 2008. We will have a steadier growth; fewer ups and downs.
Sharjah is one of the only emirates, and perhaps the only city in the whole GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council] region, that was not highly affected by the downturn, which was thanks to the leadership and the commitment to developing in a very organic way. If there is going to be high growth in the future, Sharjah is definitely going to benefit from that, but we believe in steady growth. His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan believes in having diversified growth that depends on different economic sectors.
It is a long-term vision, rather than a short-term strategy. That is something that makes Sharjah different from other cities around the GCC. All the emirates complement each other. We benefit out of Dubai as they benefit out of us. Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman are seen as basically one city rather than three different cities. It is only the road network that tells you what is Dubai and what is Sharjah.
Q: What are some of the weaknesses you have identified when it comes to doing business in Sharjah?
A: Traffic is a challenge that every investor is facing currently. For business you need a very good road network. The federal government has assigned that a major [road] network in Sharjah is going to be sold and new arteries within Sharjah will be developed soon. Easing traffic and improving connectivity will have a major impact on the economy.
Most of new Sharjah is developed out of the city, which reduces stress on the current road network. We in Shurooq [Sharjah's investment and development authority] are working very closely with the Sharjah transportation authority to come up with different options, such as tramways or new networks. But I would say [the road congestion] is not a weakness, it is just a challenge that we need to face.
Also, we cannot deny that there is an issue with electricity that Sharjah has been facing every summer for the past three years. It is solved now currently – we have connected the Sharjah electricity network with the federal network. By [June] this year, we will be connected to the whole federal connectivity so we won’t have blackouts this year.
Q: Do you feel that Sharjah’s strong Islamic identity is a limiting factor in terms of attracting Western businesses and tourists?
A: No, actually. Islam is an identity, it is not a law. Arabic is another identity that we would like to be connected to. Being Islamic has nothing to do with business; at the end of the day you are looking for where to get the best return on investment and that is where you are going to choose to invest.
Being Islamic is the identity [that] the government would like to [associate with] Sharjah, but it doesn’t limit Sharjah in any way. Sometimes, people have a bad perception about it – they think if [a place] is Islamic it might be connected to Saudi Arabia, which, in reality, is not the case. For us, we are proud to be known as an Islamic place. People come here, they want to feel like they are in a different area. We are a Muslim nation, we need to be proud of that.