Egyp­tian court re­jects trans­fer of is­lands to Saudi Ara­bia

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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