January 17, 2017

EGYPT: In A Unanimous Decision, Egyptian Top Court Rules Against Transfer Of Red Sea Islands To Saudi Arabia. Woah, Right On!

Deutsche Welle News, Germany
written by Staff and agencies
Monday January 16, 2017

Egypt's top administrative court has struck down a controversial agreement between Cairo and Riyadh. The maritime pact drew condemnation from opposition leaders and sparked protests on the streets.

The Supreme Administrative Court on Monday upheld a lower court's ruling that the transfer of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia was unconstitutional. In a "unanimous" decision, Egypt's top administrative court said the islands were legally Egyptian territory.

The agreement was signed last April during a visit by Saudi King Salman, who was in Cairo to announce various multi-billion-dollar investment deals with Egypt. Cairo argued that the uninhabited islands had only been under its protection following a request by Saudi Arabia's then-king, Abdul Aziz, in 1950. But the plan sparked anger from political opponents and activists, who accused the government of selling off territory in exchange for Saudi aid money.

Two demonstrations were held in the Egyptian capital that same month to protest the deal, and more than 100 of the participants were subsequently arrested.

A victory for the opposition

The courtroom erupted into celebration following Monday's ruling. Activists lifted Khaled Ali, an ex-presidential candidate and the head lawyer opposing the deal, onto their shoulders while supporters chanted "This land is Egyptian!"

"The verdict is a message to [Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi: 'Shame, shame on you!'" said Azza Suliman, a women's rights activist who had attended the trial, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling is certain to come as a blow to el-Sissi, who has faced growing pressure to enact a series of austerity measures in order to secure $12 billion (11.3 billion euros) in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It could also heighten tensions between Cairo and Riyadh, which has diverged from its Middle Eastern ally over the conflict in Syria.

El-Sissi has been in power since leading a 2013 military coup that overthrew the country's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohammed Morsi. Under his rule, Egypt has seen a large-scale crackdown on dissent, with thousands of dissidents jailed.
The Telegraph, UK
written by Magdy Samaan, Cairo and Raf Sanchez
Monday January 16, 2017

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.

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