Egypt on edge: An is­land give­away to Saudis un­der­cuts el-Sissi

Business Mirror - - OPINION - TNS

EGYPT’S pre­car­i­ously perched pres­i­dent, Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi, put his po­si­tion fur­ther at risk ear­lier this month. He gave vis­it­ing Saudi Ara­bian King Sal­man two Red Sea is­lands, Sanafir and Ti­ran, in re­turn for a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar pack­age of aid and in­vest­ment.

On the one hand, the two is­lands, lo­cated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, off the tip of the Si­nai penin­sula, are un­in­hab­ited. On the other, they have been con­sid­ered Egyp­tian prop­erty since a line was drawn be­tween Egypt and the Ot­toman Em­pire in 1906. Saudi Ara­bia has claimed them from time to time, deem­ing them to be in its ter­ri­to­rial waters, but nonethe­less con­signed them in 1950 to Egyp­tian pro­tec­tion from pos­si­ble Is­raeli seizure.

The bor­ders of Egypt, Is­rael and Jor­dan meet on the Gulf of Aqaba in that area. There is the sug­ges­tion that Saudi Ara­bia will con­struct a bridge or cause­way be­tween it and Egypt if own­er­ship of Sanafir and Ti­ran is now set­tled.

The prob­lem for Egypt is that al­ready-fer­vent op­po­si­tion to Sissi, a for­mer mil­i­tary field mar­shal, has fo­cused on what it con­sid­ers to be his give­away of Egyp­tian ter­ri­tory for Saudi cash, prompt­ing protests by thou­sands in Cairo streets. Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak was over­thrown in Arab Spring demon­stra­tions in 2011. Mo­hamed Morsi of the Mus­lim Brother­hood was elected pres­i­dent in demo­cratic elec­tions in 2012. Sissi over­threw him in a mil­i­tary coup d’etat in 2013, and was elected pres­i­dent him­self in du­bi­ous elec­tions in 2014.

Since then the Egyp­tian econ­omy has gone straight down­hill, led by a tourist in­dus­try that used to sus­tain the coun­try but has now col­lapsed, prompted by the likely state killing of an Ital­ian grad­u­ate stu­dent and other alarm­ing in­ci­dents. Sissi called protests against him over the two is­lands to be the work of “forces of evil,” and called out se­cu­rity forces loyal to him to put them down.

In the mean­time, the US has main­tained $1.3 bil­lion in mostly mil­i­tary an­nual aid to Egypt. It also just pulled back 100 of its 700 forces in the Si­nai penin­sula due to “troop safety,” a move en­gen­dered by Is­lamic State at­tacks on the Multi­na­tional Force of Ob­servers there. The is­land give­away looks like sell­ing off the fur­ni­ture to pay the rent and could spell the end of Sissi.

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