Sharm el-sheikh: Mubarak's red sea bolt hole

Sharm el-Sheikh dubbed Egypt's own Las Vegas


The Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, bolt hole for president Hosni Mubarak who stepped down Friday, is both a popular tourist haunt and favored place to showcase Egypt's role as Middle East peacebroker.

Mubarak was known for showing off development in the area, where he has a holiday home, to foreign guests he invited there for political meetings and conferences.

Tucked between the mountains of the Sinai desert and waters of the Red Sea, the glitzy strip of golden beaches, hotels and casinos, diving resorts and golf courses attracted about a quarter of 12.5 million tourists to Egypt in 2009.

Sharm el-Sheikh, lavishly advertised as the heart of the Red Sea riviera at the southern tip of the Sinai where the Suez and Aqaba gulfs meet, is also important for Egypt as 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 under the 1979 peace accord signed by late president Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin.

The Israelis had begun developing Sharm el-Sheikh as a resort, building a few hotels there in the late 1980s.

Since then, it has grown into a major resort attracting Western and Arab investors and thousands of tourists, mostly scuba divers and snorkellers attracted by the clear warm waters and shoals of exotic fish.

Over the years, the arid village of Sharm el-Sheikh has spawned a town, its residents a mix of tourists, hotel staff, building workers, tourist guides and taxi-drivers as well as a slew of diving and water-sports instructors.

Sharm el-Sheikh, dubbed Egypt's own Las Vegas in among the Bedouin villages of the Sinai, has also been Mubarak's location of choice for Middle East peace summits.

In 2002, UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization -- honored Sharm el-Sheikh as a "City of Peace."