At least 11 people have been arrested for “protesting without a permit” against Egypt’s recent decision to declare two disputed islands, Sanafir and Tiran, as Saudi Arabian territory, reported Shorouk and El Watan.
A small number of protesters had converged in downtown Cairo to demonstrate the new maritime agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The protesters were arrested shortly before Saudi Arabian King Salman was due to give a speech to Egypt’s parliament.
Egypt’s decision to declare the two islands as Saudi Arabian has prompted outrage on social media. #Tiran_Sanafir (#تيران_صنافير) became the top trending hashtag in Egypt on Twitter, with more than 28,000 tweets posted in relation to the decision. Some social media users have accused President Sisi of ‘selling the country to Saudi Arabia’, while others have supported the decision, arguing that previous governments had also planned to ‘return the islands to Saudi Arabia’.
The anger against the decision, which must be voted on in parliament before a referendum is held according to article 151 of the Constitution, has led to several lawyers filing legal complaints.
Among the lawyers who are collecting signatures for a petition is Tarek Al Awady. In a statement on Facebook, which has been shared more than 500 times and has more than 1,000 likes, Al Awady announced he is collecting signatures to file a legal complaint against the Egyptian government’s decision.
Similarly, Khaled Ali, the former head of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) and former Presidential candidate, announced that he had filed a legal complaint in court.
However, in response to the anger, Egypt government said that the two islands have historically fallen within Saudi Arabia’s regional waters. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry denied the existence of any territorial disputes, adding the new maritime agreement was decided upon after consultation with Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Iraq.
Egypt’s government reasserted in a statement released on Sunday that the agreement will not come into force if Parliament decides to vote against it.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement outlining the two countries’ maritime borders, placing the disputed islands of Sanafir and Tiran within the kingdom’s territory, the Egyptian Cabinet announced on Saturday.
“This accomplishment comes after hard work that lasted a long six years, during which time 11 rounds of meetings were held with the maritime delimitation committee between [Saudi Arabia and Egypt],” a statement from the Cabinet reads.
The statement went on to say that the delimitation of the maritime borders relied on a 1990 presidential decree outlining Egypt’s basis of outlining territorial seas, which Egypt notified the United Nations of in May of 1990, in addition to discussions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the same year and Saudi Arabia’s basis of outlining territorial seas.
Using “the most modern scientific methods,” the committee came to the conclusion that the islands of Sanafir and Tiran are within Saudi Arabia’s maritime territory.
The agreement will allow the two countries to benefit from what each island provides in “wealth and resources” that will be economically beneficial.
The bilateral agreement will be presented to Egypt’s House of Representatives, which will discuss its contents and issue a decision as to whether to ratify the agreement, as per legal requirements.
The two islands, located in the Red Sea to the east of the Sinai Peninsula and the west of the Arabian Peninsula, have previously been administered by Egypt but Saudi Arabia has also laid claim to them.
In 1949, Saudi Arabia allowed Egypt to occupy the two islands “for defense purposes” following the establishment of the Israeli state. Egypt proceeded to block passage through the Strait of Tiran, Israel’s only maritime passage from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.
Tiran Island was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 and remained under Israeli control until 1982.
The new maritime agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia comes during King Salman’s five-day visit to Egypt. Since his arrival, the Saudi monarch hasannounced the building of a bridge between the kingdom and Egypt over the Red Sea, pledged billions of dollars in various loans and development agreements, and met with Egypt’s Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi also announced that the Saudi-Egyptian bridge will be named after King Salman and awarded him with the “Order of the Nile,” Egypt’s highest state honor.