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Meeting of leaders of non-aligned countries promises intrigue

CAIRO, Egypt — Leaders from many of the 118 states belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement converge on Sharm el-Sheikh tomorrow for a three-yearly summit that promises little in the way of concrete accomplishments but much in the way of drama and intrigue.

Much interest in the summit lies in the concept of the name itself — non-alignment. 

The movement was founded in 1955 — ostensibly by former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser,  and former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito — as an alternative to the two-bloc system gripping the Cold War world. The group offered states a third option that would not compel its members to declare their allegiance either to the Soviets or the United States.

Still, many of the states that joined upon the movement’s creation found themselves eventually sliding into one bloc or the other. With many of the states aligned, therefore, the political influence of the movement waned.

But the summits, which happen every few years, have continued to give leaders of member states the opportunity to talk face to face. It’s also facilitated greater economic cooperation.

Any deals that emerge from the summit are likely to be bilateral or among several states. This is mainly due to the size of the group, which makes consensus near impossible. For a precedent, please consider to the accomplishments of last week’s G8 summit in Italy.

So, the small dramas will likely define this year’s two-day knees-up.

Cuba’s Raul Castro and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak are both slated to deliver the opening remarks. Observers will be watching to see if they present clashing rhetoric about the United States.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already announced he won’t be attending, sending the Iranian foreign minister in his stead. How much will the Iranian election come up? Will it distract leaders from pursuing a broader agenda?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is sending only a low-level delegation, a protest against the Egyptian government, with whom he has cool relations.

For a while it looked as though ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya might attend the summit. He won’t, but Latin American leaders are expected to use the international platform to call for his reinstatement.

And who isn’t looking forward to seeing what Hugo Chavez has to say on the international stage he loves so much?

Add Pakistan-Afghanistan, Pakistan-India, North Korea, and Burma to the list and you’ve got a recipe for a wild two days in Egypt’s swankiest resort town.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a full dispatch tomorrow.