Egypt's 'Red Sea islands handover' takes another turn

Egypt's Red Sea islands' handover takes another turn
2 min read
15 June, 2017
President Sisi's bid to handover two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia hit another stumbling block after an Egyptian constitutional panel backed the high court's decision to quash the demarcation.
The Red Sea islands handover has sparked anger in Egypt [AFP]
A senior Egyptian constitutional panel has defied Cairo's bid to handover two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, by backing earlier higher administrative court ruling that the maritime border changes are illegal.

The panel's report, published on Thursday, said Tiran and Sanafir islands should stay in Cairo's possession, and the government had no legal justification in promising the territories to Saudi Arabia.

The report is supposed to serve as a guideline for Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, which will look into whether a decision by Egyptian courts in January to quash the handover was valid.

It comes after a defence committee and the Egyptian parliament both on Wednesday gave President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the green light to sign the islands over to Riyadh.

Sisi has pushed government bodies to back his decision after following a private agreement with Saudi Arabia's King Salman al-Saud last year.

Salman promised billions of dollars in aid and investment during his visit to Cairo but was said to have wanted the Tiran and Sanafir in return.

The move sparked rare but angry demontrations in Egypt against Sisi's "sell out" with 150 protesters arrested in the government crackdown.

Sisi is also defying a court ruling in January that ultimately quashed the government's decision to handover the islands.

The situation has pitted Sisi - and the pliable parliament - against the public, with fears that redrawing Egypt's borders could spark wider unrest.

The court rulings have also angered Riyadh who claims the islands were loaned to Egypt and are still legally part of Saudi Arabia.

Egyptians say the islands have been in Cairo's possession for longer than Saudi Arabia has been in existence.

The islands - although unihabited - hold emotional value for Egypt due to their role in wars with Israel.

Israel has blessed the handover despite Tel Aviv having no official relations with Riyadh.