Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Legal action pending

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed petitioning for the annulment of last week’s maritime borders demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

The agreement ceding Tiran and Sanafir struck a nerve among Egyptians and provoked outrage on social networking sites. The decision was announced during the five-day official visit of the Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz to Egypt, which ended on 11 April.

The timing of the agreement’s signing, and the secrecy that surrounded the prior negotiations, fuelled discontent, especially when it became known that Israel had been notified of the deal two weeks before it was made public.

On 15 April hundreds took to the streets to protest against the move. A second protest has been called for 25 April, the 34th anniversary of Sinai’s liberation from Israel.

Alongside the more public displays of unhappiness, dozens of lawsuits have been filed before the administrative judiciary demanding that the “insulting agreement” be annulled. The petitioners argue that the agreement is null and void and claim that a host of official documents prove that the two islands are 100 per cent Egyptian. They also claim that the agreement violates Article 151 of the 2014 Constitution.

The administrative court has set 17 May as the day on which the first hearings addressing the more than 50 cases that have been filed will be heard.

“Given the documentary evidence, I am sure we will have a ruling in our favour,” Tarek Al-Awadi, one of the lawyers who have launched a suit against the agreement, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Al-Awadi, a prominent rights lawyer, has launched a campaign to collect powers of attorney from Egyptians who want to join the lawsuit.

“The number of powers of attorney so far is beyond all our expectations. Within a couple of days we had managed to collect more than 14,000,” Al-Awadi said.

Though such a show of support for the petition has no legal bearing, “it sends a message to the regime about the extent of public anger stirred by the agreement,” said Al-Awadi.

Al-Awadi has used his Facebook account to warn MPs who are expected to ratify the agreement that they will be blacklisted. In response, Mostafa Bakri MP, a staunch backer of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, accused the leftist lawyer of being affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. On Sunday, Bakri began collecting the signatures of MPs, prior to filing a complaint with the prosecutor-general accusing Al-Awadi of hindering the legislative authority from practicing its role.

“Our battle to defend Egypt’s territories will continue. Traitors who justify the ceding of our lands are not going to stop us,” Al-Awadi said.

The House of Representatives has yet to receive the text of the agreement they are due to debate and, the regime hopes, ratify. Even so, a large group of MPs, led by Haitham Al-Hariri, have announced solidarity with any actions that might lead to annulment of the agreement.

Eight liberal and leftist political parties are party to a lawsuit that seeks to halt the implementation of the agreement until it is referred to a public referendum. They too are collecting powers of attorney from supporters. Legal committees have been formed by the parties to facilitate the collection.

The Social Democratic Egyptian Party issued a statement last week saying it supports all legal action aimed at stopping the handover of the islands to Saudi Arabia. Former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, is also suing President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail for signing the agreement.

While meeting with selected public figures on 13 April, Al-Sisi said that the Egyptian state would never sell its territory or seize the territory of another country. He stressed that the two islands fall under Saudi sovereignty and made it clear that he believes the issue should be dropped by the media and the public.

Al-Sisi’s statements came four days after the cabinet hailed the agreement as an important achievement and said the drawing of the new maritime border was in accordance with a 2010 Saudi royal decree and 1990 Egyptian presidential decree.

Ali’s lawsuit calls for the agreement to be annulled and the islands returned to Egyptian sovereignty. In a Facebook post he said his petition would be backed by research on the historical, geographical, constitutional and international aspects of the case.

In all the lawsuits filed, the claimants rely on official documents that they say confirms Egypt’s ownership of the islands. The documents are topped by the agreement signed in 1906 — before Saudi Arabia existed — between the Turkish sultan and the Egyptian khedive acknowledging that the islands lay in Egypt’s territorial waters.

The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty also stipulates that Egypt guarantee freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran. Law no 102/1983, which regulates the status of natural protectorates, lists Tiran as an area that could be included. Some petitioners have also attached to their suits a decree issued in 1982 by the then interior minister establishing a police unit stationed on Tiran.

The government’s narrative is that the two islands have only been under Egypt’s administrative control since 1950.

“Their argument is ridiculous and they have no solid evidence to back it up,” said Al-Awadi. “We only decided to begin litigation procedures after ensuring that the government has no documents, not even a fabricated one, to verify their naïve story.”

The only documentation the government possesses, said Al-Awadi, are telegrams and letters exchanged in 1990 between officials from two countries referring to the ownership of the two islands that “are of no legal value”.

Interviewed by the ONTV satellite channel on 16 April, Hossam Eissa, a law professor, said, “Nobody in Egypt is convinced of the presence of a single piece of evidence proving the two islands are owned by Saudi Arabia.”

He continued, “The public has linked the ceding of the two islands to Saudi financial aid, something that led to a sense of humiliation.”

On 13 April Nasser Amin, a legal activist and member of the National Council for Human Rights, used his Twitter account to call upon the relevant Egyptian authorities to refer the case to the International Court of Justice.

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