In News & Reports

By Magdy Samaan,  Raf Sanchez – The Telegraph

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi suffered a humiliating court defeat on Monday when judges again ruled against his plan to hand over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The ruling was hailed by Egypt’s beleaguered opposition as a rare legal and political victory against a government that has becoming increasingly authoritarian. 

It is likely to put further strain on Egypt’s already-frayed relations with Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been one of Cairo’s main financial backers. 

The debate over the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, began in April when Mr Sisi announced after a high-profile visit by the Saudi king that the islands would be turned over to Saudi Arabia.

His decision was seen as by many Egyptian as a national humiliation, with Egypt’s government giving away parts of its own territory in return for billions of dollars in Saudi investments.

Protesters took to the streets against the decision, chanting “bread, freedom and the islands are Egyptian” – a play on the slogan shouted during the 2011 revolution which overthrew the dictator Hosni Mubarak. 

Mr Sisi pressed ahead with the decision to transfer the islands but appeared rattled by the scale of the public’s anger. “I don’t want anyone to talk about it anymore!” he shouted during a televised meeting last year. 

A lower court ruled against the handover in June and on Monday that decision was upheld by the Egyptian Administrative Court. “It is settled in the court’s conscience that the sovereignty of Egypt over the two islands is incontestable,” the court ruled. 

Opposition activists inside the court burst into cheers and hoisted the two lawyers who argued the case onto their shoulders in celebration. “After the court determined the legal position of the islands and ruled that they are Egyptian, nobody has the right to give it up,” said Malek Adli, a lawyer and activist.

Some compared their joy to how they felt during the success of the 2011 revolution.

It was not clear what Mr Sisi’s next move will be but the decision leaves him in the difficult position of having both angered his people by promising to give up the islands and angering the Saudis by failing to deliver on that promise.

Some legal experts suggested the president could try to appeal to the Supreme Court and argue that he alone has the authority to make decisions regarding foreign policy.

His allies in the Support Egypt Coalition, the majority bloc in parliament, lashed out against the ruling and said the judges did not have power over international agreements.  

There was no immediate response from Saudi Arabia but some Saudi citizens took to social media to demand Riyadh take the case to an international court and threaten to cut off financial support for Egypt. 

The two countries have been traditional in the Middle East but relations have become tense recently, partly because of Egypt’s refusal to send ground troops to support the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen and partly because of Cairo’s friendly relations with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

In September, Saudi Arabia showed its displeasure by suspending fuel shipments to Egypt, sending Cairo scrambling to find alternative power suppliers. 

Egypt’s government argues that the islands were always Saudi territory and were merely put under Egyptian protection in the 1950s out of fear that they would be seized by Israel. Opponents argue that the islands were always under Egyptian sovereignty. 


Photo: Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had promised to return the islands to Saudi Arabia but his plan was derailed by an Egyptian court CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MAYA ALLERUZZO

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