On Monday the Egyptian court ruled against handing two uninhabited Red Sea island territories over to Saudi Arabia. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian government wanted to transfer the control of these important territories to Saudi Arabia in return for the continuing aid and financial backup for Saudi Arabia within Egypt.
Controversy and debate over the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, began in April when Saudi King Salman announced planned investment projects within Egypt worth billions of dollars. Shortly after, Cairo’s plan to transfer the two islands met public attention, as news of the decision quickly spread on social media platforms.
Many Egyptians see President el-Sisi’s decisions as despicable and humiliating, as Egypt’s government was sacrificing its own territory in return for billions of dollars in Saudi investments. Hundreds took to the streets after al-Sisi’s decision was announced last April. The decision aroused opposition from many of al-Sisi’s former supporters. Al-Sisi had continued forward with the decision to hand over the territories, but was shocked by the scale of the public’s anger as he shouted, “I don’t want anyone to talk about it anymore!” during a televised meeting last year.
High spirits filled Cairo’s streets on January 16 as the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court made the judicial decision to officially reject the government’s plan to hand over Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. “It is settled in the court’s conscience that the sovereignty of Egypt over the two islands is incontestable,” the court ruled.
The destruction of this deal is likely to put further strain on Egypt’s already tense relations with Saudi Arabia, and leaves President al-Sisi in a difficult position as he has enraged his people by putting such a deal into action, and has also angered Saudis by failing to follow through with his promise. Many Saudi citizens took to social media and demanded that Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, take the case to an extreme measure and cut off all financial support for Egypt.
The Egyptian government continues to argue that the Red Sea islands had always been Saudi territory, and were only under Egyptian security and protection out of fear that Israel would seize them; however, courts argue that the islands were always Egyptian land and have been documented as such throughout history.