A New Business Hub Emerges

Can the UAE house two central business districts without competing with each other? GC investigates.

Is the United Arab Emirates big enough for two business districts? This question will soon be put to the test as Sowwah Square, Abu Dhabi’s Central Business District (CBD) on Al Maryah Island, thought to rival well-known established centres in Singapore, New York and London, is well underway. But in the lead up to it’s completion, officials say Abu Dhabi’s business hub is not competing with Dubai’s well established financial centre, the DIFC, located just 120 kilometers north of the capital.


…both Al Maryah Island and the DIFC…demonstrate there is a firmly rooted financial sector in the UAE offering a robust and stable place to do business.


Abdulla Al Shamsi, Vice President at Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality told Global Citizen, “Collectively, both Al Maryah Island and the DIFC present a strong proposition to international markets – one that demonstrates that there is a firmly-rooted financial sector in the Emirates offering a robust and stable place to do business. Al Maryah Island is not in direct competition with the DIFC.”

He elaborated: “At this stage the focus is on building a critical mass of professional companies and people. This will ultimately complement the DIFC by attracting more business professionals to the UAE.”

Formerly Sowwah Island, Abu Dhabi municipality recently renamed the island project Al Maryah after the historical village in Liwa Oasis, (which is inhibited by pure bred Arabian Oryx called Al Maryah.) The name change is aimed at showcasing what the Abu Dhabi municipality calls “the true historical and environmental values of the UAE and the economic and urban importance of the island.”

Al Shamsi says this is the first time Abu Dhabi will have a dedicated business district. “It is modelled on the world’s foremost commercial centres such as Canary Warf, Midtown Manhattan, and Clarke Quay in Singapore.”

Al Maryah is being developed in phases, the first of which is Sowwah Square, which is considered the ‘heart’ of the business district. It features 180,000 square meters of grade ‘A’ office space integrated with leisure, shopping and dining facilities.

DRIVING innovation

Job creation and supporting and accelerating the growth of the private sector, notably SMEs and family businesses were identified as key challenges at the International Monetary Fund’s regional economic outlook update recently.

Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, said, “Fiscal vulnerabilities to falling oil prices have increased, and structural challenges remain, such as the need to create jobs for growing working-age populations and to further diversify the economies.”

Part of Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030 plan is actively working to diversify the economy away from dependency on oil. The creation of the CBD is a key element in furthering that goal. “(Al Maryah) will build a critical mass of business people that will in turn lead to a highly positive impact for Abu Dhabi’s and the UAE’s economy. Across the world it has been demonstrated that bringing likeminded people together spawns new ideas, innovation and enterprise,” Al Shamsi adds.

The plan is ambitious, but Al Shamsi says they have already attracted the right names. “With prominent firms such as Al Tamini & Company, Booz & Company, Deloitte and GE Corporate already open for business and taking advantage of their new location, we are seeing the creation of clusters of lawyers, bankers, and management consultants, which is a very positive sign for Abu Dhabi’s business community.”


Sowwah Square consists of four commercial towers, ranging from 30 to 36 floors high. It will soon be home to the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange’s (ADXs) new headquarters, which is expected to be up and trading by the end of the year in a trapezium-shaped building. It will also house the Galleria shopping centre, which is scheduled to open its doors to business in the third quarter of next year. The Galleria will feature well-known luxury fashion and fine jewellery brands including Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Gucci, Prada, Alexander McQueen, Bulgari and Christian Louboutin, among others. Luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons, will anchor the project.

Al Shamsi says there is no doubt that the current global business climate is “challenging” and the real estate market in Abu Dhabi is not immune to international economic pressures. “However, we are developing projects for the long-term sustainable future of the Emirate and believe that the medium to long-term prospects remain extremely good. The new CBD is just one example of a development that is focused on the long-term future of Abu Dhabi, backed by the Urban Planning Council’s strategic blueprint for the City.”