Egypt's president ratifies disputed Saudi islands pact

Egypt’s Sisi ratifies deal transferring Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

Egypt’s Sisi ratifies deal transferring Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ratified a controversial 2016 maritime demarcation agreement under which Egypt cedes sovereignty over two strategic Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia.

It was issued shortly before sunset when most were at or heading home to eat iftar — the meal with which Muslims break their fasts during their holy month of Ramadan.

"This matter has been closed and I am only bringing it up again because we have nothing to hide", el-Sissi said in televised comments earlier this week.

Opponents of the handover say the islands were first granted to Egypt by a treaty signed between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in 1906, at a time when modern-day Saudi Arabia did not even exist as a state. A lot of them have since been freed.

After Parliament's approval of the deal, Mohamed el-Sewedi, head of the legislative body's majority bloc Support Egypt, said if Egypt hadn't approved the transfer, "Saudi Arabia would have resorted to worldwide arbitration, and this could have left Saudi-Egyptian relations in a bind".

Protesters shout slogans and hold a banner that reads in Arabic "two Red Sea islands are Egyptian", against a deal that sees Egypt cede sovereignty over two Red Sea Islands to Saudi Arabia now being debated in parliament in downtown Cairo, Egypt June 13, 2017.

Egypt's lawmakers were divided over the maritime demarcation deal, signed past year during a rare visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Egypt, yet the majority of members voted for it. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled that all previous legal decisions endorsing the transfer of the two islands are void. The two rocky outcrops guard the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel's only access point to the Red Sea and all southern maritime trade routes. However, they were placed under the administration of Egypt in 1949 in the wake of Arab-Israeli tensions.

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