Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Parliament has final say over islands

President Al-Sisi says the deal with Saudi Arabia on maritime waters involving two disputed islands will be sent to parliament, reports Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said Wednesday that the deal that was signed earlier in the month between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the demarcation of maritime waters between the two countries in the Red Sea will be sent to parliament where it will be reviewed and “approved or disapproved”.

Al-Sisi was speaking in a 90-minute televised statement in front of a live audience from the media, syndicates and prominent figures invited to the presidential palace.

It was the first direct statement by the head of state over the deal that effectively transfers sovereignty over two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia amid huge controversy in Egypt on the legitimacy of the deal and where the two islands fall -- in the maritime waters of Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

In his statement, Al-Sisi reiterated what was stated a few days earlier by the Foreign Ministry that negotiations over the handover of the two islands to the Saudis was initiated upon a Saudi request that dates back to 1990.

He argued that keeping the eight-month negotiation process strictly behind closed doors was designed to avoid public controversy that could have harmed crucial bilateral relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Al-Sisi was speaking from a podium shared by the prime minister, minister of defence, minister of foreign affairs, head of intelligence and other state officials.

The president said the decision to hand over the islands was taken by consensus by all state institutions and authorised experts.

Also present at the same podium was Moufid Shehab, a professor of international law and a key figure involved in the Taba dispute between Egypt and Israel in the 1980s.

Shehab had made exhaustive statements on the matter to the same audience to assert that the two islands fall within the maritime water zone of Saudi Arabia and had been administered by Egypt before their occupation by Israel in 1967 and after their liberation.

Al-Sisi asked the public “to stop debating this matter” and to avoid skepticism over the state’s decision on it.

The president said that the timing of the handover was prompted by the Saudi wish to “restore” the two islands.

He insisted that, contrary to the criticism levelled against him, he was not giving up Egyptian territories but was simply returning Saudi “rights”.

The president said that, by virtue of his upbringing in the Armed Forces, he did not subscribe to “illegitimate accusations of the rights of others”, which is why, he added, he had refrained from venturing into ungoverned Libya in pursuit of forced control over natural resources.

The statement, which seemed designed essentially to respond to the escalating public debate over the two islands, also addressed other pressing issues including the brutal murder of Italian researcher Guilio Regini, negotiations with Ethiopia over Egypt’s annual share of the Nile waters, human rights and economic challenges.

Al-Sisi, who again expressed his sorrow over the killing of Regini who was in Egypt for a Cambridge University PhD research, said it was the Egyptian media and social media that “suggested” that the killing was the doing of Egyptian security bodies.

Last week, Rome recalled its ambassador in Cairo for consultations over what the Italian Foreign Ministry qualified as the failure of Egyptian investigators and authorities to cooperate with their Italian counterparts to reveal the truth about Regini’s killing.

Al-Sisi also accused the “growing skepticism” of Egyptians and “poorly sourced media reports” for what he, for the first time, called “complications” in the negotiations on the issue.

Meanwhile, he insisted that the state was observing human rights but at the same time was doing so with any eye on “those evil people who wish to bring Egypt down”.

In line with his often repeated stance, the president referred to the Muslim Brotherhood and their sympathisers as “working against the interests of Egypt” and “trying to make the public unaware of the major achievements that had been made during the 22 months” of his rule “and which would have needed 20 years to have been made”.

At the same time, the president said that he would with the help of “the army and the state” pursue efforts to help support the lowest income sector of society to face the economic challenges.

He “promised” that “if possible” there would be no increase in the cost of basic commodities and that “if there is another devaluation of the pound” protection would be provided to the lowest income brackets.

The president reiterated his appeal for faith in him and promised continued hard work.

The meeting allowed for very few comments from the audience. Several of those present said they were told ahead of the meeting that there would be no questions and answers.

The president allowed one question from the audience on the issue of prices.

Al-Sisi’s remarks were welcomed by some observers and criticised by others.

Former member of the Supreme Constitutional Court Tahani Al-Gebali said the statement by the president was reassuring.

For his part, journalist and TV anchor Ibrahim Eissa said that the president’s remarks reveal his determination to take matters into his own hands without the “necessary attention” being paid to public opinion.

Al-Sisi spoke as some of his critics, who mostly associate the handover of Tiran and Sanafir with Egypt’s need for continuous financial support from Saudi Arabia, called for demonstrations on Friday to protest the relinquishing of the two islands.

Independent political sources told Al-Ahram Weekly they did not expect any significant show of demonstrators on Friday.

A government source said that “necessary measures” will be taken and that the law that prohibits protests without prior notification would be applied.

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