The Big Debate: Could the UAE ever have its own Silicon Valley?

25,000 products, 3,300 companies, 83 countries, 130,000 visitors. Gitex 2008, organisers claimed, would shrug off the global economic typhoon and emerge triumphant. Certainly this is possible and Gitex has always proved that the technology sector is no exception when it comes to Dubai’s reputation as a regional enterprise hub. But many would challenge the idea that the UAE can become the Silicon Valley of the Middle East – in other words, they would argue the UAE has little chance of becoming an innovation hub. Silicon Valley, California, is known as a centre for the development of new hardware, software and technology products and while it does not have the monopoly on invention, it has an established history of the technological, in both the private and public sectors. Dubai, for example, could be thought of as the ideal platform to regionally launch such products given its reputation for consumerism. But some would say the emirate cannot boast the infrastructure or skill-base needed to build competing alternatives for these products. However, others may point to Silicon Oasis, Dubai’s glimmering centre of semi-conductor and micro-electronics manufacture. They may say that if you consider that the technology park is host to the Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai (RIT Dubai) – an academic institution committed to training the next generation of engineers – then you must allow for the possibility that this is a fledgling Silicon Valley. By Stephen McBride