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Sharm el-Sheik hosts tourists, world leaders

Arab dignitaries met at Egypt's 'Red Sea Riviera' for the World Economic Forum. Outside, security was tight.

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Along the road to Sharm el-Sheik, a colorful mosaic stands next to a barren highway, celebrating the peacemakers who signed the Camp David Accords in the 1970s. Past that, the highway – the "Peace Road" – becomes choked with taxis and is lined by sprawling American and European resort complexes.

As the anchor of Egypt's "Red Sea Riviera," Sharm is now one part Bedouin and two parts spring break.

The boardwalks are full of sunburned British and Russian tourists in tiny swimsuits and bulging fanny packs. Young Egyptian men dressed in full oriental regalia tout sushi restaurants, 24-hour casinos, and bars with belly dancers. The city's sidewalk salesmen are mostly poor migrants from the crowded cities of the Nile Valley who come to Sharm for better pay. And their lives are far removed from the luxury of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

This week, Sharm played host to the WEF of the Middle East. Dignitaries rubbed shoulders and traded business cards inside a plush conference center surrounded by uniformed soldiers, secret police, and machine guns mounted on rickety tripods.

Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi wandered the halls alone with a small plate full of cookies and cake. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai made an occasional appearance in the main hall, surrounded by body guards and wearing a striped green cape.


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