Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday ratified a controversial agreement that transfers two largely uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified the maritime demarcation agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the cabinet said in a statement.
The deal to hand over Tiran and Sanafir islands was agreed during a visit to Egypt by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud a year ago amid public criticism.
On June 14, Egypt’s parliament voted to back the deal, saying it has the jurisdiction in the matter, which provoked small protests in several Egyptian cities.
However, a legal battle over the islands’ status continues with one court annulling the treaty and another upholding it.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Constitutional Court annulled those two rulings until it will decide on July 30 which institution has the final say.
“Based on the president’s ratification, the decree will be enforced after publication in the official gazette,” said Salah Fawzy, a constitutional expert.
“The agreement is now a law and the two uninhabited islands will be under Saudi sovereignty,” Fawzy told Xinhua.
Both countries’ foreign ministries should exchange the documents of ratification, and then a copy of the agreement will be sent to the office of the UN General Secretary to preserve the international rights, he added.
Once the maritime demarcation was enforced, Egypt would legally use the economic water for oil and gas exploration without any disputes or problems with the oil-rich Gulf country, the expert highlighted.
Tiran and Sanafir islands lie about 4 km apart in the Red Sea. Tiran sits at the mouth of Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategic stretch of water called the Straits of Tiran, used by Israel to access the Red Sea.
Egyptian troops have been stationed on the islands since 1950 at the request of Saudi Arabia. Israel occupied the two islands in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war but returned them to Egypt under the two countries’ 1979 peace treaty.
Now, only Egyptians military personnel and multinational peacekeepers inhabit the islands.
Opponents of the agreement insist that Tiran and Sanafir have long been Egyptian and criticize the Egyptian government for “selling” Egyptian territories in exchange for billions of dollars of Saudi aid.
“This matter has been closed (after parliamentary approval) and I am only bringing it up again because we have nothing to hide,” President al-Sisi said in a speech to the nation on Thursday.
In another speech this month, the president said: “the rights must be given to its rightful owners.”
“Nations aren’t sold or bought with any price, no matter how high the price will be,” the president added, “You have entrusted me with this nation and for this I will be held accountable not just before you but also before God.”
The presidency said in a statement after the approval of the parliament on the deal that the transfer of the two islands was based on the constitution, laws and rights, rather than “caprices or emotions.”
Meanwhile, some experts argue that the ratification of the pact does not ensure a certain nor immediate handover of the two islands to Saudi.
According to Shawqy al-Sayed, a veteran constitutional specialist, after the approval of the parliament, President Sisi was sure to take the next step and to ratify the pact.
However, from the constitutional point of view, “the deal hasn’t been finally settled yet, because if the Constitutional Court would deem the deal as null on July 30, it means the president’s ratification is also void,” al-Sayed pointed out. Enditem