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French Version

All eyes on Sinai for World Economic Forum

Arab and Israeli political and business leaders are to meet for three days in Egypt's resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from Saturday, only a month after the Sinai was hit by a fresh spate of suicide bombings.

Some 1,200 leaders from the Middle East and beyond are expected to converge on the Red Sea resort for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) Middle East.

This regional "Davos" will be inaugurated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and focus on reforms and the issue of youth employment, under the theme, "The promise of a new generation."

Yet much of the attention will focus on the interaction between Palestinian and Israeli officials, as the international community maintains huge pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is expected to hold talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as Mubarak.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which is not expected to send any of its ministers to the WEF, has been seeking Arab and Muslim financial support after Washington and the European Union froze their aid to the Palestinians. Western countries, which have propped up the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority for years, want the radical Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist.

The meeting, which was last held in Jordan in 2005, will take place amid tight security.

"We have organized an exceptional security set-up to ensure safety at the forum, using the latest technology and specialized squads," Interior Minister Habib al-Adly told reporters.

On April 24, three suicide bombings ripped through the Sinai resort of Dahab, further up the Red Sea coast, killing 20 people and wounding around 90. Sharm el-Sheikh itself was hit by multiple bombings in July 2005 that killed some 70 people.

Egyptian Trade Minister Rashid Mohammed Rashid said that his country's hosting of the summit "paid tribute to the trust the world has in the stability and security of Egypt."

Among the highest-profile participants of the forum will be US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who has been involved in intensive consultations in the region and was instrumental in securing a partial peace deal for Sudan's Darfur region earlier this month.

Other prominent guests include Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, as well as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a string of ministers from the region.

Organizers have emphasized the need to secure more job opportunities for the region's booming youth population.

"The current oil windfall should be used with long-term projects in mind and for the creation of new opportunities for future generations," said Sherif al-Diwany, the WEF's Middle East and North Africa director.

The World Bank warned during the last edition of the forum that the Middle East would need a 6-7 percent growth rate over the next 20 years if it was to prevent unemployment rates from reaching 25 percent.

Protests by leftist groups opposed to liberal economic policies promoted by the WEF are expected on Saturday and Sunday in the Egyptian capital.

Beirut 22-05-2006
The Daily Star

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