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November 18, 1999
Dubai, which made its name as a paradise for duty-free shoppers, had decided that its future might well lie on the Internet.
With this in mind, Dubai's Crown Prince and United Arab Emirates Defence Minister General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced that Dubai would be the world's first free-trade zone, enabling e-business related enterprises to operate globally from there.
Dubai Internet City will offer companies 100 per cent foreign ownership, tax exemptions for corporate and personal income, land on a renewable 50-year lease, and a single window for all government clearances. It also proposes to be home to the world's first Internet University, which will offer quality courses in e-business, e-finance, e-marketing, e-management and so on.
Sheikh Mohammed, while announcing his ambitious plans, also said the city will have an R&D centre for new technology initiatives and a state-of-the-art Science and Technology Park that will support all residential e-enterprises and permanent exhibition and display facilities.
Outlining his plans, Dubai's crown prince said: "Tomorrow's world will be driven by the Internet. It will be driven by innovative ideas and Dubai will be a significant global player in the 'dot-com' world."
"In the past, we have proved to the world that we can dream ideas and deliver reality. Here is another opportunity for Dubai to take a winning position in the burgeoning Internet world."
Incidentally, Sheikh Mohammed has drawn ideas from India for his project, and has confessed as much. He said visits have been made to Bangalore, India's IT capital.
"We know where they are and we'll try and bring them here."
While Sheikh Mohammed, did not mention another important cybercity in India, namely Hyderabad, and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Nara Chandrababu Naidu, the influence can be inferred. Naidu too had recently open a Science and Technology Park, following on his Hi-Tech City where big IT players like Microsoft have already arrived.
Sheikh Mohammed also said that Dubai Internet City will be able to draw from the pool of specialists from India and Egypt, another major software development centre.
He also issued an open invitation to IT majors: "I would like to invite global Internet-focussed companies like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, Cisco, Yahoo and more to consider setting up not just regional offices, but global software development centres at Dubai Internet City.
"I would also like to invite global e-commerce okayers like amazon.com, e.bay, e.toys, Dell, and so on, to consider having warehousing and distribution hubs to service their customers from the Middle East to the Subcontinent and from Africa to the CIS.
Dubai was the business hub for over two billion consumers in this region, he pointed out, adding that it could offer them the ideal environment and provide a competitive advantage at a fraction of the cost incurred in places like Silicon Valley.
Soon after the announcement, Sheikh Mohammed started receiving top officials of IT firms like Intel and IBM. Michael Lorbie, manager of IBM's operation in Europe, Middle East and Africa, was quick to praise the effort.
Lorbie, and another delegation from Intel, also met Sheikh Mohammed at the sidelines of GITEX '99, the annual computer software and hardware exhibition at the World Trade Center.
Later, Intel said it had decided to make Dubai as a base of its regional operations.
A prelude, perhaps, to greater things...
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