At the International Gaza Reconstruction Conference taking place at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, representatives from over 70 countries and international organizations have packed the main conference hall this morning. Each country’s flag waves brightly in the stiff breeze outside the main door. In addition to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the participants at today’s conference include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who opened the first plenary session. Even as various staff aides race around the center making sure that their president or foreign minister has everything that they need, different layers of security provide a semblance of order.
The Press Filing Center is jam packed with journalists from all over the world who are huddled around television screens in three different rooms each with its own dedicated language feed piping in English, French and Arabic translations. Television cameras roam the halls capturing the controlled chaos as the print journalists listen to the opening speeches from the various heads of state hoping to get just the right quote for their stories. As one of the press officers from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, my first task this morning was to ensure that the journalists who came with the Secretary were able to get into the convention center. I am pleasantly surprised to see so many familiar faces from the Egyptian press corps and international correspondents based in Cairo in the filing center. An early crisis ensues as we realize that we have inadvertently taken space in the Arabic language room. A quick chat with the filing center deputy director and additional tables and chairs are provided to enlarge the space in the English language room ensuring that the traveling press will be able to follow the speeches.
After the opening speeches Secretary Clinton will begin a series of bilateral meetings in rooms with names like Suez and Sphinx in which she will meet with her counterparts from the Middle East and Europe to discuss the issues at hand in a more intimate setting. Cameras must be escorted to these meetings in order to take the pictures that will appear on television stations and the front pages of newspapers back in the United States. Later in the afternoon, after all of the bilateral meetings and working sessions have been completed, the Secretary will host a press conference in front of a gaggle of journalists that will number over a hundred. This will be the first opportunity for many in the Egyptian and international press to ask the Secretary a question, and as such a standing room only crowd is expected. Making sure the room is arranged just so will be the afternoon’s challenge!