Egyptian Court Deals Blow to El-Sisi on Saudi Border Deal

  • Judge says Egypt’s sovereignty over 2 Red Sea islands affirmed
  • Ruling is setback for government as it seeks to validate pact

An Egyptian court affirmed the country’s sovereignty over two Red Sea islands that were to be transferred to Saudi Arabia, dealing a major blow to the government’s efforts to push through a maritime border pact with a key Gulf backer.

In his ruling, Supreme Administrative Court Judge Ahmed El-Shazly said the government “did not provide a document, or anything else,” to back its claim that the islands were Saudi territory. “Egypt’s sovereignty over the two islands is indisputable,” he said, as the courtroom erupted in cheers.

The island deal is part of a maritime border pact between the two nations. The government is pursuing other avenues to try to enforce it.

The decision last year to cede sovereignty over the islands came in tandem with a Saudi promise of aid, touching a raw nerve in Egypt, where many perceive it as an affront to the nation’s sovereignty. Thousands took to the streets after the deal was announced, in the biggest manifestations of discontent with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s rule since his election in 2014.

The agreement was challenged in a lower court, which overturned it. Another court has already suspended the nullification of the pact, and the Constitutional Court’s advisory body is set to decide next month whether to take up the case. The government has also referred the pact to parliament for ratification.

Egyptian officials have repeatedly downplayed any potential rifts between the two countries over the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, which sit strategically at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Yet while Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of El-Sisi, pledging tens of billions of dollars in aid, grants and investments to help revive the country’s struggling economy.
the islands dispute builds on other simmering tensions.

State-run oil giant Saudi Aramco hasn’t provided promised fuel shipments for months and Egypt hasn’t backed key elements of Saudi foreign policy, which supports rebels in Syria and wants to contain Iran’s regional influence.

“Saudi Arabia has other, more crucial, interests in Egypt than the two islands; mainly Egypt’s stance towards Syria, and towards Iran,” said Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo.

— With assistance by Ahmed Feteha

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