Dubai Internet City .. The Silicon Valley of The Middle East

31 Aug 2022
Dubai Internet City

Dubai Internet City Witnessed Multi-billion Tech Deals

One October day in 1999, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum drove me to a remote desert area between Dubai and Abu Dhabi near Jebel Ali. We arrived at a “marsh” land that covered a vast area. We got out of the car, and I had a lot of questions about why we came here.

I had no idea where we were going, however, as we passed through vast stretches of land devoid of urbanization, His Highness was planning the future with a proactive vision that no other leader had considered at the time. His Highness dreamed of turning that region into a landmark of the twenty-first century. Not only at the state level, but also regionally and globally. Then, while staring at an isolated desert location, His Highness pointed to the uninhabited land and said: “Mohammad, I want you to work here to build a city for technology, with a city for media on the other side, and you have a year to implement the project. With these words, His Excellency Mohammad Al Gergawi, former Chairman of Dubai Internet City and former Director General of Dubai Technology, E-Commerce and Media Free Zone Authority began his talk about the story of the construction of Dubai Internet City two decades ago

Dubai Internet City: Ambition and a Daring Decision

“The Impossible Mission,” is probably the best description of the great challenges Al Gergawi faced in accomplishing this task. The countdown began the moment His Highness assigned me the project and he told me: “I will give you a year to complete it.”

After two days of touring the desert with Sheikh Mohammed, I met with His Highness to discuss the project plan, and when I asked about the budget, he told me there was none, and the deadline will not be pushed, which was the second challenge we faced.

dubai internet city construction site 1999

The construction site of Dubai Internet City 1999

In terms of the third challenge, we were working with a concept that was only recently introduced, and its future viability is yet unknown. We took a path that no one else in the region had ventured before us, and the Internet was still in its infancy, with local newspapers advocating for it to be banned.

Days later, on October 29, in the presence of several Dubai government officials, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum held a press conference in which he declared the launch of the city project, saying:

“Over the last few years, signs of the emergence of a new global economy that is completely different from everything that came before it has emerged, and no one can deny that the era of the industrial economy has begun to fade away in favor of a new cycle of global economic progress, the era of the information economy.
I am confident that the UAE will play a significant role in the world of corporate business and Internet e-commerce.”

dubai internet city

From this point, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s ambition to reach the sky, and His Highness’ daring choice to put the UAE on the global map of the new economy, we started to form a new beginning for a new history, H.E. added.

Dubai was capturing the waves of the future through the Dubai Internet City project on a day that coincided with an exceptional moment in world history, the day the world witnessed the birth of the Internet, on October 29, 1969, when two American laboratories, in Los Angeles and Stanford, succeeded in delivering the first message from one host to another. To this day, thirty years later, on October 29, 1999, Dubai took the initiative to establish a new future for the region, setting the pace in a short amount of time from the invention of the World Wide Web “WWW” in 1991.

dubai internet city team and technology companies meeting

 The Dubai Internet City team attending meetings with several technological companies to attract them to the city

“It is a stage unlike any other, a stage of constructing and establishing the future…a stage full of never-ending effort…because we are in a country that does not know rest, and the pace of development in it does not slow down. By Sheikh Mohammed’s directives, we began to develop plans and field studies in cooperation with a team of experts and specialists in information technology to put the project into operation within a year at the latest, as directed by His Highness,” Mohammed Al Gergawi said. Some may be shocked to learn that this massive project, which was groundbreaking at the time and continues to be so now, began with only 20 employees, as we worked together in team spirit to lay the foundations for this city.”

dubai internet city

Mohammed bin Rashid accompanied by Mohammad Al Gergawi visit Microsoft office in Dubai Internet City

We obtained a $200 million loan from the British Bank in the Middle East (HSBC), after which we purchased old offices and furniture and began the project. We embarked on a journey that we could not lose. We are talking about a whole new field in the region, and we need to persuade others to trust in our vision and abilities, on the implementation of this project and the scope of our success. Dubai was not the size or repute that it is today, and part of our task was to form agreements with worldwide firms and organizations to relocate their headquarters to Dubai, which was a huge challenge for us. Indeed, we succeeded in establishing these partnerships and all available spaces in Dubai Internet City had been reserved before the buildings were raised off the ground.

“We continued day and night while we were working to complete the construction in the specified period,” Al Gergawi recalls, “and Sheikh Mohammed would surprise us with field visits early in the morning, sometimes before 6:00 a.m., before the arrival of the engineers to see the progress of the project”

The former Chairman of Dubai Internet City points out that Dubai Internet City was not designed to meet short-term objectives or for a single generation. Rather, it had significant long-term strategic implications. As a result, large areas were allocated for the project, and all resources were mobilized to ensure its success. According to him, more than 18 hectares were designated for the city’s construction at the time, and four-story buildings with a total space of 380,000 square feet were planned.

October 2000: Crossing into the Future

“On October 28, 2000, just 364 days after the first press conference, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum inaugurated Dubai Internet City in the presence of several officials and representatives of huge technology companies, who had acquired over 194 companies operating in the field of ICT on a license, to take Dubai Internet City as a hub to manage its operations,” states Al Gergawi, as he dives into the details of the launch of the DIC. Industry behemoths including Microsoft, Oracle Systems, MasterCard, and Compaq were among them.

dubai internet city construction work

dubai internet city the silicon valley of the middle east

This date was significant for the Emirate of Dubai, as it coincided with two of the region’s major events in the ICT sector. The Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX 2000) was opened in the morning, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum inaugurated Dubai Internet City (DIC) in the evening, to be the first technology, e-commerce, and media-free zone in the world.

During his speech, Al Gergawi referenced a memorable statement made by Sheikh Mohammed during the city’s inaugural event, titled “Challenge and Consistent Work,” in which His Highness said: Do you think my vision has been realized with this achievement? In this new global economy, we must accomplish more and do it more intelligently. Hundreds of countries and cities are attempting to attract funding and foster ideas. To attract corporate and individual investors to a new economy, the right work environment must be provided, from infrastructure to attractive advantages, wise and knowledgeable leadership, simplified regulations, an open market, and ease of capital movement. This is what we have done to position Dubai as the global economic hub of the future.

During the event, Sheikh Mohammed said his famous quote: “The biggest risk is not taking risks at all.

dubai internet city and mohmmad al gergawi

The first Dubai Internet City (DIC) team in 2000

Despite the overwhelming success of Dubai Internet City’s inauguration in 2000, the job was far from done. As the city’s first Chairman says, the city’s plan went through several stages and the buildings had been doubled to fulfill requests. Al Gergawi says that the project management had set a primary goal at the time to increase the number of new companies in this modern industry to open new business lines and support Dubai’s drive to build an economy based on knowledge and technology, with 350 new companies applying to establish headquarters in the electronic free zone.

There were high expectations attached to this project when it was established in 1999, Dubai led the Internet revolution and the transformation from the traditional economy to e-commerce, and the development of an integrated information technology industry that epitomizes the new economy,” Mohammad Al Gergawi concluded.

Mohammed bin Rashid visits the headquarters of Dubai Internet City in 2000

Mohammed bin Rashid visits the headquarters of Dubai Internet City in 2000


UAE… The “Silicon Valley of the Middle East”

The Dubai Internet City project has contributed to the creation of an appealing business environment and a solid infrastructure since the turn of the twenty-first century, making Dubai the focus of the region’s attention and enabling it to reserve a seat in the world of the digital economy with unparalleled strength and confidence, reinforcing the solidity of its development model.

dubai internet city

Al Gergawi lays the foundation for Microsoft in the presence of representatives of the company

From several thousand square feet, 194 companies, and 3000 specialists in the fields of ICT in 2000, to more than six million square feet, 1600 companies, and 32 thousand specialists in 2020. These numbers are proof that the Dubai Internet City project was not a real estate project as some think, but rather a major economic and development project that contributed to building business parks and adding new economic sectors to the local economy. Today, Dubai Internet City (DIC) has become the largest ICT complex in the Middle East and North Africa and it has proven that Dubai has become the capital of the new economy.

In short, what has been accomplished is merely a reflection of the insightful vision His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had 21 years ago when His Highness bet on the oil of the future. He believed that the Internet would, over time, constitute a knowledge and technical revolution that would require large geographical spaces to be filled, intellectual spaces to change, and economic sectors to create a new map. Today, this vision has become a reality… a proud reality, and the UAE is honored to leave its mark on the world.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “Dubai Internet City has contributed greatly to keeping pace with many of the technological changes that have passed us, and it is time for the city to be a new destination for making a change in the world around us.”

Dubai has witnessed multi-billion tech deals including the AED11-billion acquisition of the Dubai-based Careem by Uber, that was earlier acquired by Amazon for over AED 2 billion, and “,” which was acquired for 3.3 billion dirhams.

From a dream driven by a firm belief that nothing is impossible for the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum paved the way for a bright future for the UAE at various levels. Today we are living the positive impacts of this proactive vision, as we have evolved into the country of the future.