Sharm el-Sheikh is a city situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in South Sinai Governorate, Egypt, on the coastal strip along the Red Sea. Its population is approximately 35,000 (2008). Sharm el-Sheikh is the administrative hub of Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate which includes the smaller coastal towns of Dahab and Nuweiba as well as the mountainous interior, Saint Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai.
Sharm el-Sheikh is sometimes called the “City of Peace”, referring to the large number of international peace conferences that have been held there.
Sharm el-Sheikh is on a promontory overlooking the Straits 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 Suez Crisis of 1956 and restored to Egypt in 1957. A United Nations 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 peninsula was restored again to Egypt in 1982 after the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979.
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.
Sharm 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 Nabk, 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 6 km 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 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 4 September 1999 agreement to restore Palestinian self-rule over the Gaza Strip. A second summit was held at Sharm on 17 October 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, but it failed to end the violence. A summit was held in the city on 3 August 2005 on developments in the Arab world such as the situation in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Again in 2007, an important ministerial meeting took place in Sharm, where dignitaries discussed Iraq reconstruction. The World Economic Forum on the Middle East was also hosted by Sharm el-Sheikh in 2006 and 2008.
Amidst the 2011 Egyptian protests, President Hosni Mubarak reportedly went to Sharm el-Sheikh and resigned there on 11 February 2011
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. 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, with an area of 133,905 square metres (1,441,340 sq ft).
Sharm is also the home of a 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. 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.
The Nabq Managed Resource Protected Area is a 600 square kilometres (230 sq mi) area of mangroves, coral reefs, fertile dunes, birds and wildlife.
Nationals from the EU and the USA do not require a visa for travel to Sharm El Sheikh if the visit is for fourteen days or less.
Sharm el-Sheikh has also become a favourite spot for scuba divers from around the world Being situated near 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, windsurfing, kitesurfing, para-sailing, boating, and canoeing.
Ras Mohammed is the national park of South Sinai, located on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Along with Nabq, it has 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.