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NOVEMBER 1, 1999

Bernie's Middle Eastern tour

FORMULA 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone took his children off for a short holiday in the Middle East last week but spent a little time chatting with governments about the possibility of holding Grands Prix in the region in the future. Ecclestone met representatives of the Egyptian government to discuss a Grand Prix in the desert, as a means of rebuilding the country's tourist industry which was virtually destroyed in November 1997 when Islamic extremists massacred 58 international tourists in Luxor. Early last year Egyptian hoteliers created an organization called Tourism against Misery to rebuild the country's tourist trade by contributing $2 for every night sold to tourists. This has already helped to fund a water treatment program in the Nile delta, the renovation of a hospital and the construction of a stadium. They hope that such projects will result in an improvement in Egypt's image as a tourist destination in wealthy countries in Western Europe, the United States and Japan. Improving the infrastructure will also reduce the appeal of extremist groups.

Ecclestone then went on to a second destination in the Arab world. It is not clear where this was but there are at least three countries in the region showing interest in Grand Prix racing. Jordan, which wants to boost its Dead Sea tourist trade; Dubai, which wants to consolidate its glamorous image of being the playground of the Persian Gulf and Bahrain, which is diversifying into tourism in the face of dwindling oil reserves.

At the recent Italian Grand Prix the Emir of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa was a low-profile guest of the StewartÊGrandÊPrix team, along with two leading members of the government. Bahrain is completely controlled by the Al-Khalifa family, which appoints the government. The National Assembly was disbanded 24 years ago.

There are changes afoot, however, as the current Emir only took power in the Spring following the death of his father SheikÊIsa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa