On April 9, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia as stipulated in a border accord signed between Cairo and Riyadh the previous day.
The controversial decision, however, has triggered unprecedented mass demonstrations ever since, with protesters slamming the arrangement as unconstitutional. A number of lawyers filed a lawsuit in the administrative court to block the deal.
Back in June, the administrative court rejected the Egyptian-Saudi border re-demarcation agreement, saying Egyptian sovereignty over the two islands could not be given up, prompting the country's State Lawsuits Authority, representing the Sisi government in legal cases, to lodge an appeal to suspend the execution of the June ruling.
The government’s appeal was turned down by the same court in early November, but later in the month, the government submitted two further appeals against the court’s decision. On Thursday, the cabinet sent the deal to the parliament for voting.
On Saturday, Cairo’s appeal court approved a verdict by a lower court that rejected the June ruling by the administrative court. A more senior tribunal, the Higher Administrative Court, is due to deliver a verdict on January 16.
Demonstrators and critics have accused Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money, with reports saying that Cairo is receiving 20 billion dollars in aid from Riyadh in return for agreeing to the handover of sovereignty. Egyptian courts have given jail terms to hundreds of protesters.
Riyadh and Cairo argue that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and that the Arab kingdom asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them. However, lawyers and opponents say that Egypt’s sovereignty over the pair dates back to a 1906 treaty, before Saudi Arabia was founded.
The uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir lie about 4 kilometers apart in the Red Sea. They are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories.