National Geographic : 2009 Mar
• coast and inland that may as well have split the Earth s crust. El Mestekawy, a Cairo native, pioneered the development in Sharm el Sheikh, near the pen- insula s southern tip. In his o ce, away from the thump of the dance oor, he unfurled a colossal photo of the town 20 years ago---except there was no town. e photo showed only a squat gray building, a few tents, the sea, and endless desert. " ere we are," he said, pointing to the gray lump. It started as a hotel and later became a nightclub. "Otherwise just the Bedouin." Where are they now? I asked. He waved a hand west. " e hills," he said. Along the boulevards outside the club, thou- sands of tourists ocked beneath electric palm trees, sipping mango smoothies and wearing sun- glasses at midnight. e only Egyptians in sight served drinks and gave out yers. ey were the lucky ones who held work permits that allowed them past the checkpoints outside the city. e next day the scene on the beach might have been Ibiza or St.-Tropez, except for the rarest reminder that we were indeed in the Middle East: Topless sunbathers strained to ignore the lone figure in a full black niqab, sitting like a slab of onyx while her husband splashed in the surf. El Mestekawy s assistant, Timi, drove me in his boss s sport-utility vehicle to see his next business venture. As we rounded a bend on the coast, an enormous sand castle loomed. "Biggest in the world," Timi said. When it s nished, he explained, it will serve as a marine playground, with an aquarium, water park, and restaurants. We climbed the castle, dodging workers from Cairo who were building the structure, which wasn t made of sand but from chunks of AGE OLD TRUST and mutual reliance endure in St. Catherine's Monastery, where Bedouin Salam Hussein (above, seated at right) and his chief have come for advice from Greek Orthodox Archbishop Damianos (far left). On a peak above the monastery (opposite), wind whips German travelers at the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, built and rebuilt over 16 centuries.