In final verdict, Egyptian court rules against government agreement to hand over Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
By Ruth Michaelson | The Guardian
An Egyptian court has issued a final ruling rejecting a controversial government plan to transfer two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, prompting cheers in the Cairo courtroom but potentially deepening tensions with the country’s erstwhile financial backer..
Celebrations erupted as the judge gave the verdict confirming Egyptian sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir, saying the government had failed to provide evidence that the islands were Saudi.
The deal to transfer the islands, announced in April, caused public uproar and protests by Egyptians, who believe Tiran and Sanafir belong to their country. It also fed into discontent over the country’s economic crisis.
Ali Ayoub, who helped bring the original case against the government, responded with jubilation to Monday’s ruling. “The ruling is final and cannot be subject to appeal, [even] the parliament doesn’t have the right to discuss this agreement, because it’s been made null and void by a court ruling” he said, surrounded by supporters chanting: “Egyptian, Egyptian, Egyptian.”
Tiran and Sanafir are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel. Saudi and Egyptian officials say they belong to Saudi Arabia and have been under Egyptian control only because Riyadh asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.
Timothy E Kaldas of Washington-based thinktank the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said the ruling demonstrated the complexity of Egypt’s authoritarian government. “It’s not as outsiders may imagine: an all-powerful leader who does as he pleases,” he said. “There are many centres of power within the Egyptian state that do not always see eye to eye.”
The ruling could win back some credibility for the judiciary among the Egyptian population, Kaldas added. Egypt’s judiciary has been criticised at home and abroad for a lack of independence from the government since Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi came to power in 2013.
The controversy over the islands has become a source of tension with Saudi Arabia, which has provided Egypt with billions of dollars of aid but recently halted fuel shipments as relations deteriorated.
“Saudi Egyptian relations were already strained by delays in the transfer and other conflicts,” Kaldas said. “This ruling will exacerbate those tensions and likely do long-term damage to any hopes for Egypt to regain significant financial support from Saudi Arabia.”
Monday’s blow to the government was also a moment of national pride for many of those reacting to the verdict. “Outside of government circles, you’ll be hard pressed to find an Egyptian upset about this ruling,” Kaldas said.