Egyptian Parliament approves transfer of two islands to Saudi Arabia

The Red Sea's Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Strait of Tiran between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia.
The Red Sea's Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Strait of Tiran between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia.PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (Bloomberg) - Egypt's Parliament backed President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (June 14), snubbing court rulings invalidating the move and risking renewed protests against a treaty opponents denounced as an erosion of sovereignty.

Parliament 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.

In a sign of the potential trouble that could follow the lawmakers' decision, security forces clashed with protesters outside the Journalists' Syndicate on Tuesday (June 13), 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 defence 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.