Sharjah celebrates Ruler who built a world centre of culture in 50 years

Under the rule of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Sharjah has grown from fishing town to global city

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Related: Eight highlights from the life of Sheikh Dr Sultan Al Qasimi

The Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, will on Tuesday celebrate 50 years since he took the helm of the emirate.

Under his rule, Sharjah has grown to be a global city of high-rise buildings, museums and nature reserves that more than a million people call home. It is also renowned across the world as a place of culture and education.

The emirate is a far cry from the Sharjah that Sheikh Dr Sultan was born into on July 2, 1939.

Then part of the Trucial States, it was an era when pearl fleets still crossed the Arabian Gulf, people lived in barasti huts and the Arabian leopard roamed freely.

The outbreak of the Second World War a few months after he was born brought immense hardship to the region, delaying the search for oil and leading to increases in food prices.

An RAF base at Sharjah, however, proved crucial to the Allied war effort in turning the tide of war. It was also the modern-day UAE's first airport.

High rise buildings and hotels sprout on the sandy shore of Sharjah in 1977. AP Photo

After the war, Sheikh Dr Sultan finished secondary school in Sharjah and Kuwait and undertook postgraduate studies during the 1960s in Cairo. By 1965, he chaired Sharjah Municipality and, after his graduation in 1971, managed the Ruler’s office.

When Britain announced in 1968 that it was to leave the Gulf in 1971, Sharjah joined the UAE and he became the UAE’s Minister of Education. He became Ruler of Sharjah on January 25, 1972.

In the five decades since, Sheikh Dr Sultan has been at the forefront of the emirate’s cultural, economic and social development, with education prioritised. Culture has also flourished. Sharjah is home to some of the Middle East’s top artistic centres and museums, such as Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, Maraya Art Centre and the Barjeel Art Foundation, not to mention pioneering installations such as the Rain Room.

Old buildings such the Flying Saucer have been restored and turned into art hubs and community spaces, the historic heart of the city – the Heart of Sharjah – has been revamped, while stunning new libraries such as the House of Wisdom have been built.

Under Sheikh Dr Sultan's rule, Unesco declared Sharjah “cultural capital of the Arab world” in 1998. The UN body made it the “world book capital” in 2019. It was also honoured as Islamic culture capital in 2014 and capital of Arab tourism in 2019.

Sheikh Dr Sultan has also led the development of Sharjah’s east coast areas of Khor Fakkan and Kalba. A new Corniche was built in Kalba, with heritage buildings restored and Khor Kalba nature reserve rejuvenated.

Khor Fakkan has become a tourist destination in its own right, with a huge waterfall and Roman-inspired theatre wowing onlookers.

These are just a few of Sharjah's achievements over the past 50 years, prompting excited speculation of what the next five decades will bring.

Updated: February 09, 2022, 12:27 PM
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