Moving from an oil to a knowledge-based economy
Published on: Sunday, October 13, 2019
By: James Sarda
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A massive complex in the Arabian desert sands has become the world’s first publishing and printing free zone. Located in Sharjah, one of the seven provinces that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it complements the vision of the Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, to position the UAE as the Arab world’s knowledge and culture capital.

Sharjah Publishing City as it is called, is dedicated to all things connected to the publishing world, a process that was started 37 years ago by Sheikh Dr Sultan by launching a yearly international book festival that has since become the world’s third largest after Sao Paulo and Frankfurt.

It may seem arduous since major book and newspaper publishers have lately been forced to close shop, downsize or transmigrate to cyberspace.

But the visionary Ruler knew this was what the UAE needed. He knew that the yearly international book fair that he started in 1982 to empower the Arab world and others with knowledge to counter materialism from the sudden oil wealth.

“Although we started off with the main focus on business and publishing, writing and distribution, we also pursued business activities that cater to the publishing industry like accounting, marketing, public relations, graphic design, computer design, auditing and translation,” said Ahmed Al Mahmoud, its Sales and Marketing Officer (pic).

These, in a nutshell, are the business activities that publishers everywhere need as well as related disciplines. For instance, a public relations firm need not search high and low for ancillary services like the provision of promotional materials and translations of its brochures and books. These would all be available under one roof and all it needs is to park its office at the complex and even hold the event like book signings there, besides making use of the many meeting rooms.

Hence, international authors and publishers would be able to promote their works in the UAE, the wider Arab diaspora and beyond.

“This is the right thing to do. It’s amazing,” said Rashed Daouk, who was involved in putting the Sharjah International Book Fair together. 

It is considered a Free Zone and the benefits of having an office in this one-stop centre means instant access to every need under one roof from seeking a business licence to Immigration and Customs clearance so that foreign clients can get the necessary approvals instantly to ensure smooth operation of their businesses.

“You rent an office here and we will help you with your paperwork on immigration as they have an office here. The business licence we issue them ourselves. So everything is done from here.

“If there’s anything that’s outside, we will help you with that as well. Basically, it’s a one-stop shop,” said Ahmed.


Sharjah Publishing City, as it is called, sits on a built up area of more than 40,000 sq m and has only two floors but its height is that of a four-storey building. Now one of the largest government buildings in Sharjah, its imposing high-ceiling grandeur is overpowering the moment a visitor steps inside from any of its four doors located at the North, South, East or West of the building.

Conceptualised in 2014, it transformed into one of the most striking structures of steel, glass and mortar within three years. The building itself was raised in record breaking time within a year and offices began moving in by 2018, including from UK, US, China, Middle East, North Africa, India and Europe.

“His Highness personally oversaw the construction. Many times he gave his input, even the smallest of details,” said Ahmed.

In all, the building that sits strategically along a vital highway connecting all the seven emirates that make up the UAE, has 300 offices that are both furnished according to client’s preferences as well as unfurnished. 

Situated next to University City that houses more than 10 universities and educational institutions having more than 30,000 students, the location could not be more appropriate.

Because businesses operations are in various sizes, there is also a concept of “flexidesks” for lower budgets and start-ups with rentals at US15,000 per year where companies would be working shoulder-to-shoulder which helps in networking with different nationalities and backgrounds.

“You may have a company to your left involved in publishing and one to the right doing graphic design while the company in front and behind you may be doing auditing and translation,” said Ahmed.

“Not only different nationalities and countries but also very diverse business activities working close to each other. This environment allows people to have good networking capabilities instead of getting out there to find their own.”

Each company that occupies space at Sharjah Publishing City is entitled to five visas and larger ones can apply for more. With capacity for 600 offices and five visas per office, this works out to about 3,000 foreign nationalities operating out of the premises when fully operational.

It’s state-of-the art systems include putting out fires not by using sprinklers, foam or powder but by using safe non-toxic gas. 

“People want to save their information. So we care about their books that will be stored here. Even the temperature and humidity are controlled so that the books will not deteriorate.

“There is also 24/7 security and CCTV plus private loading and unloading areas,” he said. Which is why one of the earliest to move in was a firm involved in antiques with books commanding millions of dollars in value.

Massive as it already is, there are also expansion plans to have storage units under Phase Two. Existing facilities also include a 100-seating theatre that can be used for seminars and conferences.

Although primarily targeted at attracting publishers, it is also meant to attract a whole gamut of services that foreign clients that take up space will need without stepping outside the complex, including travel needs.

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