Egypt’s government has approved a deal to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia and sent it to parliament for ratification, despite a legal dispute over the plan, according to state television.
The deal, announced in April, caused public uproar and protests by Egyptians who said the uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir belonged to their country.
The controversy has become a source of tension with Saudi Arabia, which has provided Egypt with billions of dollars of aid but recently halted fuel shipments amid deteriorating relations.
In June, Egypt’s higher administrative court annulled the agreement, saying Egyptian sovereignty over the islands could not be given up. The Egyptian government lodged an appeal.
Earlier this month, an Egyptian state advisory body recommended the court uphold its original decision, in a report seen by Reuters. The court is scheduled to issue its final verdict on 16 January and is not obliged to follow the advisory body’s report.
The government’s latest move showed “the collapse of the state of law and the constitution” in Egypt, said Khaled Ali, a lawyer who filed the lawsuit in June to annul the deal.
“The decision that parliament is going to issue is void and the people should defend their land with all legitimate means against this tyrant regime that doesn’t respect either law or judiciary.”
But Nabil al-Gamal, member of the legislative and constitutional committee in parliament, said there was “absolutely no conflict” in sending the agreement to parliament for ratification before the court’s final ruling.
“I expect the parliament not to vote … on the agreement before the judiciary rules, so that there won’t be any conflict between them,” he said.
Tiran and Sanafir are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say they belong to Saudi Arabia and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.
Lawyers who opposed the handover said Egyptian sovereignty over the islands dated to a 1906 treaty, which was before Saudi Arabia was founded.