Egyptian court rejects transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia
CAIRO—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, stands with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman .
AIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Tuesday rejected a border agreement that would have transferred two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and which had sparked street protests in Cairo.
The ruling was a rare rebuke of the government’s foreign policy by the judiciary, which has been largely supportive of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and could strain ties with Riyadh, which has provided billions of dollars in aid to Egypt in recent years.
El-Sissi’s government, together with loyal media, has zealously defended the April agreement, arguing that it would bring economic benefits to Egypt. It says the islands have always been part
of Saudi Arabia, and were only placed under Egyptian control in 1950 for protection from Israel. The government said it would study the ruling’s citation before it decides to appeal, a virtual certainty. The verdict was issued by a court that rules on cases challenging executive decisions. The government has 10 days in which to apply for an injunction against the ruling and 60 days to appeal it.
Critics of the border agreement, which was announced during a high-profile visit by King Salman alongside billions of dollars’ worth of new Saudi aid, view it as a sell-off of sovereign territory. Thousands of protesters took to the streets over the transfer of the islands, in the largest demonstrations since El-Sissi was elected in 2014.
Authorities responded with a wave of arrests of protesters and activists. However, most were later acquitted, released on bail or fined after brief trials.
Opponents of the deal have also claimed that surrendering the two islands is unconstitutional and have demanded a nationwide referendum on the issue. The government has rejected those demands. There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government on the court ruling.
Egypt’s parliament, which is packed with government supporters, has been expected to debate the agreement and vote on whether to endorse it. No date has been set for the discussion.
In a brief verdict met with an eruption of applause and joyful chants, judge Yahya Dakroury ruled that the two islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba remain under Egyptian sovereignty and banned “any changes on the two islands for the benefit of any foreign country.”—AP