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A welcoming shore
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 07 - 2005

Sharm El-Sheikh, which has most often been in the news as a venue for Arab-Israeli talks, became the cosmopolitan face of Egypt, writes Dina Ezzat
"The simplicity of sun, sea and sand along with the luxury of five-star hotels, water sports and entertainment."
"One of the most accessible and developed tourist resorts in Sinai where you can explore colourful Bedouin tents, mountains and coral reefs."
Until last Thursday, should you happen to have been Googling and typed in Sharm El-Sheikh, these are the kind of comments you would have found on any number of Web sites.
That changed in the early hours of Friday morning. Type in Sharm El-Sheikh now and the results will speak of horror and devastation. There will be a single, searing image -- that of the collapsed Ghazala Hotel.
On satellite channels the Sharm El-Sheikh-Live logo did not, for once, refer to an Arab-Israeli conference. Sharm El-Sheikh has been used as a venue for such talks for years. Instead, Arab and international reporters had descended on the resort town to report on the carnage caused by last week's terror attacks.
The authorities, understandably, seemed desperate to superimpose the older image -- of beautiful beaches and well-organised international conferences -- on the present scenes.
Work will shortly be hard underway, President Hosni Mubarak commanded, to remove the ruins and rebuild and refurbish the shattered hotels. The government, sources say, is determined to continue to promote Sharm El-Sheikh as a venue for international conferences, including a possible Arab summit around the middle of August, and a key meeting of the World Economic Forum next spring.
Like other parts of Sinai occupied by Israel in 1967 Sharm El-Sheikh was restored to Egypt in 1982. Since then it has been developed into one of the most popular year-round resorts in the world.
With tourism investments of up to LE7 billion, over 35,000 hotel rooms and a recently expanded airport, Sharm El-Sheikh has established itself as Egypt's number one tourist destination.
According to Ministry of Tourism figures visitors to Sharm El-Sheikh contribute more than LE 2.5 billion to the state coffers. This amount was expected to increase significantly in the next couple of years, with plans to double the hotel capacity of the coastal city.
Sharm El-Sheikh has also been heavily promoted as a venue for sports tournaments -- including golf, bowling and squash. But for most people, though, Sharm El-Sheikh means diving and snorkeling.
Sharm El-Sheikh was originally selected as a venue for important international meetings in an attempt to spare Cairo -- and Alexandria, for that matter -- the disruption such events inevitably bring. President Mubarak could receive visiting dignitaries in Sharm El-Sheikh without the accompanying motorcades and heavy security presence disrupting the already congested traffic of Cairo.
It did not take long for the town to become a favourite, with both the president and visiting dignitaries. When former US President Bill Clinton was in Sharm El-Sheikh in 1996 for a world Peace Makers Conference he went for a walk along Neama Bay, looked at the sea and -- as his Egyptian escorts recall -- said that he had to have a dip in the beautiful blue waters.
Sharm El-Sheikh has other admirers among world leaders, and senior Israeli officials have been known to lament having to return the beautiful city. It has even competed successfully with Aswan in attracting the French, whose preference had long been for Upper Egypt.
Arab leaders also developed affection to this city that played venue to some of their toughest negotiations, with many acquiring villas in the town and funding development projects.
Sharm El-Sheikh is also a favourite destination for many Egyptians who enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Local Sharm El-Sheikh fans enjoy pristine, uncrowded beaches, can eat Italian quality pizzas, enjoy truly Egyptian evenings or else while the evening away in discotheques.
While some Egyptians are at times uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with Israelis -- psychological barriers do not, after all, disappear on demand -- most accept, and enjoy, Sharm El-Sheikh as the city that has hosted a great many Arab-Israeli peace meetings, some under the auspices of President Mubarak and others, non- governmental, under the auspices of Mrs Suzanne Mubarak. Hardly surprising, then, that Sharm El-Sheikh came to be known as "the city of peace".


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