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All-star political cast gathers in Egypt

Castro, Gaddafi, Mubarak to the stage, please, the Non-Aligned Movement summit is about to begin.

The NAM was founded in 1955 by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in order to present a third path for countries unwilling to throw their support behind either of the two Cold War blocs led by the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

They thought at the time, said American University in Cairo Political Science Department Chair Walid Kazziha, that “they could benefit by the rift between the Soviets and the U.S. by playing one side against the other.”

The purpose of founding the movement, said Kazziha, was not only to establish a third way, politically, but also to offer an economic doctrine of socialism as a middle path between American capitalism and Soviet communism.

The NAM was particularly attractive to new African nations that didn’t buy wholly into the philosophies of either world superpower. By the 1960s, though, the main premise of the movement collapsed as the Soviets and Americans pressured many of the countries into one camp or the other.

Decades later, the NAM is still struggling for relevance. The movement has failed to establish itself as a powerful bloc largely because many of the member-states find themselves pursuing divergent interests.

So at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, organizers appear to have made the universal concern of the global economy the top priority.

“The historical context in which this group was created is very different from now,” said Diaa Rashwan, a political expert at Egyptian think tank the Ahram Center. “But the financial and economic positions make this group still relevant, but not politically.”

Summit leaders seemed eager Wednesday to exert their rhetorical muscle on the economy, the issue where they stand to affect the most change, with Messrs. Mubarak and Castro leading the charge.

High-level Indian and Pakistani officials, meantime, sat down Tuesday to discuss how to repair relations that have deteriorated in the wake of terrorist attacks that each country has blamed on the other. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Galani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were expected to talk Thursday morning, according to wire reports.

As for the Honduran coup, leaders have been working on a proposal that would condemn the military overthrow of the Central American government.

A number of other issues, from Serbia to North Korea to China, are also on the table, though leaders are not expected to do much more than pay lip service to them when they vote on a joint declaration Thursday.

Still, one country that is not participating may be the most significant player. With new leadership in the United States and Western primacy over the global economy, Kazziha said much of the NAM’s discussion this week would center on continued efforts by many countries to find elbow-room in a world that revolves so heavily around the U.S.

“[The summit] suits the purpose of so many third world countries, including Egypt, because this meeting is, to a large extent, about readjusting to the new American era,” he said. “It’s a movement searching for compromises with the western world, led by the U.S.”

More on diplomacy and Egypt:

Egyptians seethe over murder in Germany

Obama speaks before 3,000, addresses a billion

The great Suez slowdown