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What's Sharm el-Sheikh—and Why is Mubarak Hiding Out There?

Friday, 11 Feb 2011 | 12:08 PM ET
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
Nicholas Pitt | Photodisc | Getty Images
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian city where Hosni Mubarak is holed up, is an interesting place for an autocrat to attempt to ride out a revolution.

Sharm—as the locals are known to charmingly call it—claims tourism for its major industry: It's basically an isolated resort town on the Red Sea coast.

One wonders about the political optics of this in Cairo. As untold hundreds of thousands have crowded Tahrir Square, demanding basic freedoms and lacking in the most fundamental essential services, the Egyptian president appears to have gone on holiday.

(As bad decisions go, this one is difficult to rank in a historical context: It is perhaps worse than if Richard Nixon had chosen to cool his heals in Nantucket during the height of the Watergate crisis—though arguably better than if Louis XIV decamped Tuileries Palace, as the tides of French Revolution rose, to take up residence in Cap d' Antibes.)

The town itself has got it all: Palm trees, sun, and surf—and a track record of being lost by the Egyptian military during critical inflection points in history.

Also, lots of crazy-bloody-terrifying mass shark attacks. (Yes, seriously.)

In 1956, during the Suez Crisis, Israeli paratroopers captured Sharm el-Sheikh, where hundreds of Egyptian were allegedly 'killed without battle'. The town was then later returned to Egyptian control about a year later in 1957, after a United Nations cease-fire.

During the Six Day War, in the summer of 1967, Sharm el-Sheikh was again captured by the Israelis—this time without a fight. (This makes pefect sense: If paratroopers descended on Seaside Heights in June, it's hard to imagine anyone being sober enough to put up a fight.)

Sharm is located at the very southern tip of the strategic Sinai Peninsula—which explains its popularity with foreign militaries during the regions far-too-many wars.

Despite its important location, and prominent place in Middle Eastern military history, Sharm is not a very big town: The population is only 35,000.

(Its diminutive size may play to Mubarak's favor: Poor-huddled-masses-yearning-to-breathe-free tend to get far more uppity in big groups, according to a recent article in the New York Times.)

Also to Mubarak's advantage (over me, at least): The February climate in Sharm is very much more favorable than the weather in New York: The average high is a balmy 72.9 degrees.

Sharm el-Sheikh is also home to an international Airport—which,judging by photos found online, is smack in the middle of a desert.

Yet this may be exactly the point: From what more advantageous place could one imagine an aging dictator catching a last minute flight to Jeddah or Rome?

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