The Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Middle East summit starts Monday, is both a symbol of Egyptian success and an ideal spot for international peace brokering -- 'far from the madding crowd'. Tucked between the desert mountains of the eastern Sinai and the Red Sea, this oasis of calm, removed and sheltered from the harsh realities of politics and student unrest, plays year-round host to an unflagging stream of tourists.
Over the years, the village has spawned a town, its residents a mix of tourists, hotel staff, building workers, tourist guides, and taxi drivers. "With students on the streets, it would be difficult for the Egyptians to receive (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak in Cairo right now," a western diplomat here reflected.
"With such a background of demonstrations, Sharm el-Sheikh hits the mark," the diplomat added, preferring to stay unnamed.
Student demonstrations against Israel have been going on over the last ten days or so, although they are officially banned in Egypt, and tolerated only on campus, where most action is orchestrated by the banned Moslem Brotherhood.
Saturday, thousands of students and schoolgoers demonstrated against Barak's coming visit in different parts of the country.
Several police officers, including one general, were injured during clashes with students who broke out from university, and a US fast-food joint was ransacked.
Despite being the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel back in 1979, criticism and attacks have continued regardless of any ups or downs in regional tension, according to Israel's ambassador to Cairo, Zvi Mazel, way back in February.
Since the start of the troubles in the Palestinian territories, Israeli flags have been burned in Cairo by journalists, students and actors, organised by professional unions.
Against that backdrop, Sharm el-Sheikh offers a more seemly location for delicate diplomatic gatherings, while at the same time demonstrating a symbol of sovereignty regained in the Sinai.
Conquered by Israel during the June 1967 war along with the rest of the Sinai, Sharm el-Sheikh was restored to Egypt by the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord signed in 1979 by former president Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin.
Sharm el-Sheikh was the site of the Israeli-Palestinian summit on the Wye River accord in September 1999 and was also Mubarak's location of choice for a peace builders' summit in April 1996 in support of Israeli candidate for prime minister, Shimon Peres, following Palestinian attacks in Israel.
Monday's summit, to be attended by US President Bill Clinton, will take place at the Moevenpick Hotel, near the airport, where Mubarak often hosts international meetings. – (AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )