THE CITY OF PEACE
The Red Sea Riviera – The simplicity of sun, sea and sand. The luxury of five-star resorts, water sports, shopping and entertainment.
Sharm el-Sheikh is on a promontry overlooking the Strait of Tiran at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic importance led to its transformation from a fishing village into a major port and naval base for the Egyptian Navy. It was captured by Israel during the Sinai Conflict of 1956 and restored to Egypt in 1957. A UN peacekeeping force was subsequently stationed there until the 1967 Six-Day War when it was recaptured by Israel. Sharm el-Sheikh remained under Israeli control until the Sinai Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979. peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982 after the Camp David Peace Accords.
A hierarchical planning approach was adopted for the Gulf of Aqaba, whereby their components were evaluated and subdivided into zones, cities and centers. In accordance with this approach, the Gulf of Aqaba zone was subdivided into four cities: Taba, Nuweiba, Dahab and Sharm El-Sheikh. Sharm El-Sheikh city has been subdivided into five homogeneous centers namely: Nabq, Ras Nusrani, Naama Bay, Umm Sid and Sharm El Maya.
El-Sheikh city together with Naama Bay, Hay el Nour, Hadaba, Rowaysat, Montazah and Shark’s Bay form a metropolitan area.
Before 1967, Sharm el-Sheikh was little more than an occasional base of operations for local fishermen; the nearest permanent settlement was in Nabq, north of Ras el-Nasrani (“The Tiran Straits”). Commercial development of the area began during the Israeli presence in the area. The Israelis built the town of Ofira overlooking Sharm el-Maya Bay, and the Nesima area, and opened the first tourist-oriented establishments in the area six kilometers north at Naama Bay. These included a marina hotel on the southern side of the bay, a nature field school on the northern side, diving clubs, a now well-known promenade, and the Naama Bay Hotel.
After the Sinai was restored to Egypt in 1982, the Egyptian government embarked on an initiative to encourage continued development of the city. Foreign investors – some of whom had discovered the potential of the locality during the Israeli occupation – contributed to a spate of building projects. Environmental zoning laws currently limit the height of buildings in Sharm el-Sheikh so as to avoid obscuring the natural beauty of the surroundings.
The city has played host to a number of important Middle Eastern peace conferences, including the September 4, 1999 agreement to restore Palestinian self-rule over the Gaza Strip. A second summit was held at Sharm on October 17, 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, but it failed to end the violence. A summit was held on August 3, 2005 in this city on developments in the Arab world such as the situation in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008 was also hosted by Sharm el-Sheikh.
The average temperatures during the winter months (November to March) range from 15 to 35 degrees Celsius (59-95 degrees Fahrenheit) and during the summer months (April to October) from 20 to 45 degrees Celsius (68-113 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of the Red Sea in this region ranges from 21 to 28 degrees Celsius (70-84 degrees Fahrenheit) over the course of the year.
Sharm el-Sheikh was formerly a port, but commercial shipping has been greatly reduced as the result of strict environmental laws introduced in the 1990s. Until 1982, there was only a military port in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the northern part of Marsa Bareka. The civilian port development started in the mid 1980s when the Sharem-al-Maya bay became the city’s main yacht and service port.
Sharm el-Sheikh’s major industry is foreign and domestic tourism, owing to its dramatic landscape, year-round dry and temperate climate and long stretches of natural beaches. Its waters are clear and calm for most of the year and have become popular for various watersports, particularly recreational scuba diving and snorkeling which some consider to be among the best in the world. Coral reefs, under water and marine life offer a spectacular and dazzling time for divers. There is great scope for scientific tourism with diversity in marine life species; 250 different coral reefs and 1000 species of fish.
These natural resources, together with its proximity to European tourism markets, have stimulated the rapid growth of tourism that the region is currently experiencing. The total number of resorts increased from three in 1982 to ninety one in 2000. Guest nights also increased in that period of time from sixteen thousand to 5.1 million. Companies which have been attracted to invest in this city include Hyatt Regency, Accor, Marriott, Le Méridien, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, with categories of three to five stars. In 2007 the area saw the opening of its first aqua park hotel resort. The four star Aqua Blu Sharm Resort was built on the Ras Om El Seid.
Sharm is also the home of a state of the art congress center, located along peace road, where many international political and economic meetings have been held, including peace conferences, ministerial meetings, world bank meetings, Arab League. The Maritim Sharm el-Sheikh International Congress Centre can host events and congresses for up to 4,700 participants.
The nightlife of Sharm El-Sheikh is modern and developed. In 2005, Little Buddha, a sushi bar, nightclub, and bar, took the title of having the longest continuous bar in the Middle East. Other popular bars include the Camel Bar, The Tavern, Pirate’s Bar, Movenpick Beach, and The Mexican. Dance club franchise Pacha has one of its three African clubs in Sharm (the other two are in Morocco and Nigeria). These nightclubs and restaurants contribute greatly to the lifestyle led by Sharm el-Sheikh’s visitors each year.
The colorful handicraft stands of the local Bedouin culture are a popular attraction. Ras Mohammed, at the southern-most tip of the peninsula, has been designated a national park, serving to protect the area’s wildlife as well as its natural landscape, shoreline and coral reef. A number of international hotels and noted restaurants are clustered around the centre of Sharm, known as Naama Bay, with golf courses and other leisure facilities further up the coast.
Outings to places such as Cairo and the Great Pyramids require a crossing of a continental border (crossing from Asia to Africa) which requires a travel visa that must be acquired from Sharm el Sheik airport.
Sharm’s marina has been redeveloped for private yachts and sailboats, with a passenger terminal for cruise ships and scheduled ferry service to Hurghada and Aqaba.
Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in addition to scheduled flights to Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor, Alexandria and 5 weekly flights to London (Gatwick), Sharm’s airport is served by frequent charter flights to Italy, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and the UK, among other destinations.
British Airways now operates direct scheduled services from London Gatwick to Sharm-el-Sheikh on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays. Thomson Airways operates chartered services seven days a week from UK airports.
Sharm has frequent good quality coach services to Cairo leaving from the Delta Sharm bus station. There are three companies on the route charging between 70 and 100 LE in 2008 for the 6 hour journey.
Sharm el-Sheikh is also a favourite spot for Scuba divers from around the world. Being situated near to the Red Sea, it provides some of the most stunning underwater scenery and warm water making this an ideal place to dive. Visitors to Sharm el-Sheikh can experience a variety of water and activities. Beach seekers find many activities such as diving, snorkelling, wind surfing, kite surfing, para-sailing, boating, and canoeing.
Ras Mohammed is the National Park of South Sinai and located on the very tip of the Sinai Peninsula; it probably represents some of the most famous dive sites in the Red Sea with 800-metre (2,600 ft) deep reef walls, pounding current and coral gardens.
The Sharm el-Sheikh Hyperbaric Medical Center was founded in 1993 with a grant from USAID by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, represented by Dr Adel Taher to assist with diving related illnesses and complete the area’s reputation as a full-service dive destination.
The future is in the hands of those who explore… and from all the beauty they discover while crossing perpetually receding frontiers, they develop for nature and for humankind an infinite love.
Jacques Yves Cousteau Oceanographer