Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has endorsed a controversial agreement with Saudi Arabia on the transfer of the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to the kingdom.
A cabinet statement issued on Saturday announced Sisi’s ratification of the 2016 maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia, which gives the kingdom control over Tiran and Sanafir, two islands located at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Egyptian parliament had earlier approved the pact amid high controversy and opposition from senior lawmakers. Several courts had also annulled the agreement.
Sisi, a former army general who had reportedly served for a while as Egypt’s military attaché in Saudi Arabia, has faced growing public pressure over his decision to sign the agreement last year as many call it tantamount to treason. Reports said at the time that the Sisi administration had given up control over the islands in return for financial aid from Saudi Arabia. The president finally referred the deal to the parliament in December after it sparked growing protests across Egypt.
Demonstrations have continued unabated since then with many calling for the annulment of the deal. An estimated 120 people have been arrested since earlier this month when protests against the agreement escalated. Most of the detainees have reportedly been released.
Defying public outrage, Sisi has defended the agreement over the past months, arguing that Tiran and Sanafir historically belong to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt took custody in the 1950s to protect them against potential aggression by Israel. His administration has also sought to ease public concerns about the transfer, saying Egypt would not totally abandon and would retain administrative control. It says Egyptian tourists would be free to visit the islands without visas even after Saudis take control.
By Africafrique and agencies