Anger in Egypt as Red Sea islands’ handover looms

If parliament approves deal, Sisi can circumvent public anger, which would then be directed at legisla­tors.

A 2016 photo shows Egyptians reacting at the high administrative court as a judge announces the postponing of a court ruling in the case of two Red Sea islands to January 16th, 2017, in Cairo. (AFP)

2017/01/15 Issue: 89 Page: 14

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s move to re­fer to parliament an agree­ment that would hand over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia jeopard­ises the country’s stability and goes against the public’s wishes, critics said.

“By referring the deal to parlia­ment for approval, the government proves its total disrespect of the will of the people,” rights advocate Khalid Ali said. “This amounts to voluntary abdication of a piece of our country’s territory.”

Ali and other activists filed a law­suit to stop the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands, which lie at the en­trance of the Straits of Tiran, which connects the Read Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba, to Saudi ownership.

Cairo stated in April 2016 that the islands are in Saudi territorial wa­ters, although Egypt has had a mili­tary presence on Tiran to protect the nearby Straits of Tiran. Riyadh handed control of the islands to Egypt in 1950 as a bulwark against Israel.

The government referred the deal to parliament on December 29th, al­most seven months after signing the agreement in Cairo in the presence of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

It is expected to take parliament weeks at least to act on the deal, Deputy Parliament Speaker Sulei­man Wahdan said.

“Can you face your constituents on the streets after approving this deal?” lawmaker Ahmed al-Tantawi asked his colleagues during a recent debate on the private Dream televi­sion network. “Approving the deal will be a betrayal of the confidence of the people.”

Protests against the deal have taken place in Cairo and on social media, a position backed by thou­sands of people who said there was no mandate for Sisi or his govern­ment to hand control of the islands to Saudi Arabia.

Former presidential candidate and leftist politician Hamdeen Sa­bahi said he expected public anger to snowball.

“Egyptians will get out on the streets to protest the deal, even if they all go to jail,” Sabahi said. “Sisi does not have the right to give up sovereignty over these islands.”

Sisi has been under pressure from the Saudis to offer them something tangible in return for the billions of dollars in aid since the overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

Riyadh has started measures to punish Cairo for not reciprocat­ing in some way. The Saudis have suspended oil shipments and post­poned billions of dollars in promised investments and finally by cement­ing ties with Ethiopia, the country that is constructing a dam on the Nile River, Egypt’s only source of water.

A former career diplomat, who requested anonymity, warned the island dispute could cost Sisi his job and spark a new popular uprising.

If parliament rejects the deal, the diplomat said, Sisi can go to the Sau­dis and tell them: “Look, I did eve­rything to give the islands to you but [the lawmakers] are against this.”

If parliament approves the deal, however, the diplomat added, Sisi can circumvent public anger, which would then be directed at legisla­tors.

Mustafa al-Fiqqi, a former diplo­mat, said he expected Saudi Arabia to resort to international arbitration if parliament rejects the deal.

“This is why it is necessary to set­tle this issue peacefully,” Fiqqi said. “Egypt and Saudi Arabia need each other, particularly now.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved