Egypt presses ahead with Saudi island deal despite uproar

Egypt presses ahead with Saudi island deal despite uproar
The controversial transfer of two Red Sea islands is set to be approved by Egyptian lawmakers despite a court ruling it violated the constitution and a public outcry.
2 min read
30 December, 2016
Egypt's lawmakers are pressing ahead with the Saudi island deal despite protests [AFP]
Egypt is set to approve a controversial transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, state television has reported.

However, the hand over of the uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi sovereignty is still awaiting the outcome of an appeal after a court ruled the deal violated the constitution.

The agreement, announced in April, caused public uproar and protests by Egyptians who said the islands belonged to to Cairo.

The controversy has become a source of tension with Saudi Arabia - which has provided billions of dollars of aid to Egypt - reportedly including oil deliveries, direct investment, and deposits in the central bank to shore up Egypt's depleted currency reserves.

But Egypt froze the islands' handover process following the protests and legal action taken by Egyptian oppositionists that led to a court order annulling the agreement, saying Egyptian sovereignty over the islands could not be given up.

The government has since appealed the order.

The court is due to issue its final verdict on 16 January.

The government's latest move shows "the collapse of the state of law and the constitution" in Egypt, Khaled Ali, a lawyer who filed the June lawsuit to annul the deal, told Reuters.

"The decision that parliament is going to issue is void and the people should defend their land with all legitimate means against this tyrant regime that doesn't respect either law or judiciary," Ali said.

However, Nabil al-Gamal, member of the legislative and constitutional committee in parliament, said there was "absolutely no conflict" in sending the agreement to parliament for ratification before the court's final ruling.

"I expect the parliament not to vote ... on the agreement before the judiciary rules, so that there won't be any conflict between them," said Gamal.

Tiran and Sanafir are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel.

Saudi and Egyptian officials say they belong to Saudi Arabia and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.

Lawyers who opposed the handover said Cairo's sovereignty over the islands dated to a 1906 treaty, before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Earlier this month, a leading Saudi Arabian official reportedly said Riyadh will not mend ties with Egypt until Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri is sacked and the contested islands are transferred to Saudi sovereignty, a source close to the Saudi ambassador in Cairo told The New Arab's sister publication.

red sea