Egypt's Red Sea islands deal slammed as 'high treason'

Egypt's Red Sea islands deal slammed as 'high treason'
An Egyptian youth movement has described Cairo's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia as 'high treason', while widespread national outcry threatens to scupper the deal.
5 min read
12 April, 2016
The maritime border demarcation deal has provoked angry reactions from Egyptians [AFP]

An Egyptian youth movement has condemned the controversial maritime border demarcation deal signed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Saturday, and described the act as "high treason".

The deal - which saw Egypt hand over two uninhabited islands in the Red Sea - was agreed when Saudi Arabia's King Salman visited the country this week.

The 6 April Youth Movement - one of the most powerful anti-regime groups - said in a statement that the deal was also a "flagrant violation" of the presidential oath, which stipulates the protection of the country's territorial integrity.

The statement called the Egyptian military to return to their role of "protecting national territory away from political conflicts" and stop their "blind support" for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The maritime border deal was announced on Saturday during a landmark visit by King Salman to Cairo and paves the way for the transfer of sovereignty over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

"This enables both countries to benefit from the exclusive economic zone for each, with whatever resources and treasures they contain," the Egyptian cabinet said in statement on Saturday.

It added that the determination that the two islands fall within Saudi regional waters was the culmination of a six-year process of studies and eleven rounds of negotiations between the two sides.

According to the Egyptian government, the two uninhabited islands are Saudi but have been in Egypt's custody for "protection" since 1950.

However, few Egyptians are happy with the explanation and the agreement has provoked angry reactions from Egyptian citizens, social media users - and even MPs - who insist that the islands are Egyptian.

Parliamentry review

Such uproar about Egyptian territory has led to a rare act of dissent against the government in parliament. 

One Egyptian MP said late on Monday that the parliament would review all historical documents relating to islands of Tiran and Sanafir in order to prove their historical ownership.

"If the islands prove to be Egyptian, they will not be given up," MP Alaa Abdel Moneim said in a Facebook post.

"If they prove to belong to Saudi Arabia, they will be subject to Article 151 of the constitution, which requires the deal to be voted on in a public referendum."

What is most surprising is that Abdel Moneim is the spokesperson for the state-affiliated Support Egypt bloc, which strongly backs the policies of President Sisi.

The Egyptian government says the two uninhabited islands are Saudi
but have been in Egypt's custody for protection since 1950 [The New Arab]

In an urgent statement to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, MP Tarek al-Khouli said it would be "highly embarrassing" for the parliament to approve a deal without possessing the necessary and adequate information.

MP Haitham Hariri told The New Arab that Sisi's signing of the deal was "invalid", as the decision to hand the sovereignty of land over must be ratified by the Egyptian parliament first.

Hariri added that the historically Egyptian islands should not be sold off to satisfy Saudi Arabia or even in return for grants in the form of projects and investments.

Along with other MPs, Hariri said he would submit a request to Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to deliver to the parliament the documents that prove Saudi Arabia's alleged sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party [ESDP] said it was "shocking" that the Egyptian government gave up the islands to Saudi Arabia and described the deal as "insulting".

The government should "immediately" withdraw from the agreement, the party said in an official statement, calling Egyptian citizens to reject the deal in peaceful protests.

In addition, the party announced solidarity and support for all lawsuits aiming to stop the deal.

Legal action

On Monday, an administrative court in Cairo scheduled the first trial session to contest the maritime border deal on 17 May.

Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali had filed a lawsuit with the administrative judiciary on Sunday, calling for the annulment of the agreement and petitioning the court to return the islands to Egyptian sovereign control.

The human rights lawyer and former presidential candidate said in a Facebook post that the case was "not personal" and that it would require major research and legal efforts on the historical, geographical, constitutional and international levels.

This decision has a lot to do with Egyptian sovereignty and the land right of Egyptians throughout history, as well as upcoming generations.
- Tarek al-Awady

Along with lawyers Tarek al-Awady and Malek Adly, Ali is seeking public support for the lawsuit. He has called for assistance from anyone who is able to help with research or provide supporting documents.

"It is a constitutional right granted to all citizens to file such a lawsuit to safeguard their rights," Awady said, according to Daily News Egypt.

"This decision has a lot to do with Egyptian sovereignty and the land right of Egyptians throughout history, as well as upcoming generations."

'100 percent Egyptian'

In an interview with al-Araby TV, the head of the Strong Egypt party said that the islands were "100 percent Egyptian".

"The two islands represent parts of Egypt's national security," Abdel Moneim Abul Fotoh said.

"The claim that these territories belong to Saudi Arabia is justification for the violation of the law," he added.

Abul Fotoh said his party would also join the lawsuit filed by Khaled Ali.

In addition, the party leader criticised the Egyptian regime's crackdown on human rights organisations.

"Egypt is going through a devastating economic crisis," he said, "but what is disturbing is that the current regime considers freedom and democracy as a luxury.

"This is what Mubarak did for 30 years, and it proved to be a failure."