Sharjah’s got something of a bad rep, and the rumors of Mubarak landing in the Emirate don’t help. But as far as business is concerned, things are looking up, thinks Eva Fernandes.
When it comes to Sharjah, there is no denying it, the emirate has a rather poor rep when compared to its more prosperous and booming brothers in the south.
Having been born in Sharjah, and having completed a considerable amount of schooling in the Emirate, I bear a kind of loyalty to it. The kind of loyalty that makes me grit my teeth when my Dubaian and Abu Dhabian friends make fun of the Emirate's less luxurious malls or more crowded streets. And while they claim the Emirate is nothing other than a haven for those after cheap rent, I point to the Qasba and Sharjah’s impressive University City. We go on in this fashion for a bit, but when my opponents reach the point of Sharjah's more conservative take on laws and regulations, I find myself quiet.
And now, unfortunately, there are rumors that Egypt's recently deposed president Hosni Mubarak has arrived in Sharjah (although Emirates 24|7 has spoken to an official source at Sharjah's Department of Civil Aviation who dismissed rumors that Mubarak's plane landed at the Sharjah International Airport). Either way, it’s hardly what the emirate needs to help build its reputation.
However, thanks to some recent developments in Sharjah, I only need to point to the local press this week to help defend the emirate.
Take for instance, The National's glowing (sorry) account of Sharjah's light festival. True, it’s just a little ironic that the Emirate that suffers from the most acute electricity shortages should be hosting a festival that consumes so much of the stuff, but the festival was still well received. The third installation of the annual festival saw 'elaborate light and sound shows' across Sharjah, with residential building, mosques, government offices and historic buildings all lit up. The Festival of Light, which was organised by the emirate's Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), was designed to 'highlight' both the traditional and more modern aspects of the Sharjah. As The National pointed out, the festival draws some of its inspiration from major European cities like Berlin, which have used similar displays to attract thousands of tourists.
Exhibit two in my defence of my birthplace: Dubai Media City may have historically been the shining beacon of developed media in the region (with Abu Dhabi closely catching up, what with the setting up of twofour54 and all), but recent developments in Sharjah may make it third in the line, and young up and comer. This weekend saw the official launch of the Sharjah Media Corporation (SMC), which was set up with a capital of Dh100 million. As such, the newly launched corporation will be the is the parent company of Sharjah TV, Sharjah Sports Channel, Sharjah22 Channel, Sharjah Radio, Sharjah Media Center and Sharjah Media Training Center. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qassimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Chairman of SMC is quoted i Emiratesn 24|7 as saying: "The launching of Sharjah Media Corporation is a huge achievement which required a lot of work, planning and efforts." Good luck to them.
And one more example of why you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Emirate: the fact that Sharjah will soon play host to one of the leading international Hotel chains. This weekend, Hilton Worldwide announced that it had signed an agreement with Bin Otaiba Investment Group for a Hilton Hotels & Resorts property in Sharjah. The first ever Hilton in the emirate will open late 2011 and will have five boardrooms, one ballroom with a capacity for 400, a business centre, a health club and two pools. Rudi Jagersbacher, president, Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide told Gulf News: "Sharjah is unique in character and a buoyant new market for tourism in the UAE. It offers leisure travellers the opportunity to sample authentic Emirati culture as well as cultural havens such as its many museums and souqs. The emirate's proximity to Dubai makes it an attractive business tourism destination." Yeah okay, so it’s just one hotel, and they had to throw in the Dubai reference, but this is still a step in the right direction.
So there you have it, three good reasons why Sharjah is perhaps escaping the shadow (we just can't let the light-imagery go) of its older emirates at last. Perhaps it’s time to resurrect the emirate's golden slogan of the 1980's: "Smile, you're in Sharjah!"
By Eva Fernandes