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Dubai Sheik builds a media oasis

Sheik Hamdan nurtures showbiz infrastructure

He’s a poet, an occasional TV star, a graduate of one of the U.K.’s most prestigious military academies and an undisputed member of Dubai’s super-elite. But Sheik Hamdan Al-Maktoum’s most important job at present is to continue growing the emirate’s showbiz infrastructure and nurturing the dynamic new generation of aspiring Emirati media mavens.

Sheik Hamdan, the 26-year-old son of Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed, has won himself many admirers in the Middle East and beyond as he completes his first year as chairman of Dubai’s executive council, essentially the local government responsible for day-to-day running of the emirate. The leadership skills he’s demonstrated so far have confirmed the promise of the young man many in the region believe will one day succeed his father as ruler.

“Media oils the wheels of enterprise,” says Sheik Hamdan, reflecting on the territory’s growth as it preps for the 4th edition of the Dubai Intl. Film Festival, which unspools Dec. 9-16.

“We have a dynamic, intelligent society here in Dubai that demands interesting, first-class and effective media. We have to meet those demands to continue to attract the best, not only in terms of visitors, but also the new residents that are part of the bigger plan for Dubai,” he says. “There is considerable scope for an expansion of media events, such as the Dubai film festival, and for the development of the emerging production hubs that are being developed in the emirate.”

Key to the growth of what his father has described as Dubai’s knowledge economy has been the development of the media industry in the city.

Offering a lucrative package of incentives to potential tenants, the tax-free zone of Dubai Media City has gone a long way toward establishing the emirate as a regional media hub, with the likes of CNN and MBC setting up shop there. The emirate also recently relaunched the government media net Dubai Media Inc., made up of four channels including flagship satcaster Dubai TV, with two more channels waiting in the wings to bow next year.

Projects on the drawing board include Dubai Studio City — a proposed one-stop-shop for film and TV production expected to open the first of its soundstages next year.

A significant portion of Sheik Hamdan’s role as executive council chairman will be to ensure growth. He also serves as chairman of the Sheik Mohammed Establishment for Young Leaders, an org that has boosted the careers of local execs such as Abdullatif Al-Sayegh, CEO of multimedia shingle Arab Media Group, which launched MTV Arabia in November; and Mohammed Saeed Harib, the brains behind the “Freej,” the U.A.E.’s first-ever animated series.

“A great deal has been achieved in a short space of time,” Sheik Hamdan says. “This is an industry with enormous potential, much of which remains untapped. Dubai has a contribution to make in the wider world, and it has a voice that should be listened to. An indigenous media gives Dubai that important ability to express itself from its own platform.”

Sheik Hamdan brings a unique perspective on this because he’s not strictly a suit, and he has first-hand experience in the power of media. He writes poetry under the pseudonym of Fazza and has his own website dedicated to his odes.

And he became something of a local celebrity when he starred in “Al Maidan,” a hit TV skein dedicated to a native Emirati folk dance that aired on terrestrial channel Sama Dubai.

As a graduate of the U.K.’s Sandhurst Royal Military Academy (the alma mater of Britain’s Prince Harry), the young sheik speaks with frankness about the precarious geographical location of Dubai in a region most commonly associated with political strife.

“The effects of politics in other parts of the region cannot be avoided and has, in a counterintuitive way, actually helped the development of media and entertainment,” he says. “All the major media houses are here and have been encouraged to increase their presence because of the global interest in events in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran, to name but a few.”

With events in the region to a large extent out of the hands of Dubai’s rulers, Sheik Hamdan is under no illusions as to the tests that lie ahead.

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