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The New Arab

Saudis furious after Egypt strikes down islands transfer deal

Tiran and Sanafir are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba

Date of publication: 17 January, 2017

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Saudis have called for international arbitration and even the expulsion of Egyptians after a court voided an agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to the kingdom.

Saudis have called for international arbitration after an Egyptian court upheld the decision to void a government agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Saudis have expressed anger at the ruling that the two islands – Tiran and Sanafir – were sovereign Egyptian territories, with some even calling for the expulsion of Egyptians from the kingdom.

"In order to avoid deepening the rift between both sides more than it already is, this case must be taken to the The International Court of Justice," Saudi political science professor Wahid al-Hashmi told The New Arab.

"Relations between the two countries are in a state worse than a crisis. We must end the back and forth provocations between both sides," Hashmi said.

The Egyptian government was supported by billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 military coup, but ties appear to have frayed between the two countries amid disagreements over Syria.

Saudis took to Twitter to express their outrage
at the court's decision
Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments to Egypt in October, a move announced after Cairo backed a Russian-drafted resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council.

Last month, a Saudi delegation controversially visited the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD], which has been a major source of fear in Egypt, which depends on controlling the flow of the Nile's waters for its survival.

A Saudi diplomat based in Cairo said that he welcomed the idea of the case going to international arbitration, adding that he hoped "the issue ends quietly so as not to further damage Saudi-Egyptian relations."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, hinted that Egyptian politicians opposed to handing over the islands were being funded by regional powers, who were "trying to heighten the crisis between Riyadh and Cairo."

Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi general and founder of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, told BBC Arabic that kingdom has presented proof the islands were Saudi, adding that authorities in Riyadh could take the case to the UN.

"The rift with Cairo is over other regional issues unrelated to the islands," Eshki said.

On social media, Saudis took to Twitter to express their outrage at the court's decision, using an Arabic-language hashtag that means: "Tiran and Sanafir are Saudi".

"We demand that the King expels all Egyptian workers and that we bring in workers in from Turkey to replace them," said one user.

Prominent Saudi cleric Awad al-Qarni said: "If an Iranian court ruled that the three islands were Iranian would anyone from the Gulf say: 'We must respect the court's ruling'," referring to a similar territorial dispute between the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

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