Sharm El-Sheikh is an Egyptian city on the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The city and holiday resort is a significant centre for tourism in Egypt, while also attracting many international conferences and diplomatic meetings.
Sharm El Sheikh (meaning "Bay of the Sheikh") is also known as the "City of Peace; Egyptian Arabic: Madinet El Salam", referring to the large number of international peace conferences that have been held there. It was known as Şarm-üş Şeyh during Ottoman rule, and as Ofira during Israeli occupation of the Egyptian territory between 1967 and 1982. Among Egyptians and many visitors, the name of the city is commonly shortened to "Sharm", which is its common name in the Egyptian slang. The name is also sometimes written as Sharm el-Cheikh, Sharm el-Sheik in English.
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 when 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 6km 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. The site off the shore gun emplacements at Ras Nasrani opposite Tiran Island is now a diving area.
After Sinai was restored to Egypt in 1982, the Egyptian government embarked on an initiative to encourage the continued development of the city which is now an international tourist destination. 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 Iraqi reconstruction. The World Economic Forum on the Middle East was also hosted by Sharm el-Sheikh in 2006 and 2008.
Sharm El Sheikh's major industry is foreign and domestic tourism, owing to its dramatic landscape, year-round dry climate with long hot summers and warm winters as well as 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 from sixteen thousand to 5.1 million. Companies that have been attracted to invest in this city include Hyatt Regency, Accor, Marriott, Le Méridien, Four Seasons, and 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.
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 southernmost 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.
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 activities. Beach seekers find many activities such as diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, kitesurfing, para-sailing, boating, and canoeing.
Ras Mohammed National Park is located at the most southerly tip of the Sinai Peninsula where the waters of the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez meet. This is home to diverse marine life and with walls plunging to over 800m in depth, the wreckage of the Yolanda including toilets & Baths along with strong currents it is not surprising that it ranks within the best areas worldwide.
The Straits of Tiran are located at the base of the Gulf of Aqaba and in a major shipping channel. There are four reefs all named after the British Cartographers who first mapped them: Gordan, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson. In summer months at the back of Jackson divers search to see groups of schooling hammerheads.
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.