Egypt Lawmakers Approve Red Sea Islands Transfer to Saudi Arabia

  • Vote snubs court rulings against Egypt-Saudi border pact
  • Critics accuse El-Sisi of ceding land in exchange for aid

Tiran and Sanafir, between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2014.

Source: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt’s parliament backed President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, snubbing court rulings invalidating the move and risking renewed protests against a treaty opponents denounced as an erosion of sovereignty.

Parliament on Wednesday passed an agreement redrawing maritime borders between the two countries after heated committee debates this week. Lawmakers were asked to stand to register their approval. Critics accuse El-Sisi, who signed the transfer accord a year ago during King Salman’s visit to Cairo, of giving up land in exchange for Saudi aid. The government says the islands -- Tiran and Sanafir -- have always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt was merely overseeing their administration.

The deal, deemed unconstitutional by Egypt’s top administrative court, had triggered the largest protests against El-Sisi since he took office in 2014 following the ouster of his predecessor, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. Security forces quickly quelled the demonstrations, but the courts’ rejection of the deal dealt a blow to a government that has received tens of billions of dollars in aid, grants and other assistance from Saudi Arabia.

A group of journalists stage a protest in front of the headquarters of the Journalists' Union in Cairo, Egypt, on June 13, 2017.
A group of journalists stage a protest in front of the headquarters of the Journalists' Union in Cairo, Egypt, on June 13, 2017.
Photographer: Ahmed Al Sayed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In a sign of the potential trouble that could follow the lawmakers’ decision, security forces clashed with protesters outside the Journalists’ Syndicate on Tuesday, arresting some who were rallying against the transfer of the islands.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said this week that any court ruling rejecting the pact was inconsequential. The comments stood in stark contrast to repeated assertions by El-Sisi, a former defense minister, and other officials who argued that Egypt’s judiciary was independent and its rulings to be respected.

The treaty was introduced to parliament days after Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar. Along with other charges, authorities in all three Gulf countries accuse the wealthy Gulf sheikdom of supporting and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, which promoted Mursi for president and is banned in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

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