Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘Schemes from within’

The steps leading to the headquarters of the Press Syndicate are once again a preferred venue for demonstrations, this time provoked by the decision to hand Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on Friday to protest President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The demonstrations constitute the most serious challenge to date of the controversial protest law in place since November 2013. The protest — dubbed “The Friday of Land” — was attended by intellectuals, journalists and activists.

“The islands are Egyptian. Lengthwise or crosswise we are the owners of the land,” chanted demonstrators at the largest protest in two years, staged in front of the Press Syndicate’s Cairo headquarters.

Smaller rallies in Mohandiseen and Giza were dispersed soon after they began by police firing tear gas. The protest in front of the Press Syndicate, however, continued until the evening, despite the presence of large numbers of security forces.

The scene recalled the pre-25 January Revolution period when the steps leading to the entrance of the Press Syndicate’s headquarters were perceived as — if not quite a safe haven for protestors — somewhere where any violent dispersal would be in full view of the media and couldn’t be ignored by the press.

Following the opening of its new headquarters in 2002, the Press Syndicate became the preferred destination of groups from across the political spectrum for staging demonstrations demanding a host of different reforms. Things changed after the 25 January Revolution, when Tahrir Square became the focal point for protestors calling for change.

The steps of the syndicate building were more or less abandoned, until last Friday. According to eyewitnesses, the number of protestors reached 3,000, the largest gathering of different political and social factions since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in July 2013.

“The state exchanged Egyptian territory for Saudi financial aid,” one protester at the Press Syndicate told Al-Ahram Weekly. “We are here to express our refusal of such a decision and to demonstrate the youth of the revolution are still here.”

In addition to slogans denouncing the loss of the two islands, demonstrators resurrected the signature chant of the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, shouting, “The people want the downfall of the regime.”

 An unknown number of demonstrators were detained and charged with, among other offences, demonstrating without a permit, disrupting traffic and conspiring to incite chaos. Though many were released later the same day, on Monday Qasr Al-Nil prosecution renewed the detention of 25 pending investigation. The prosecution had ordered the release of the detainees on Saturday, only to retract the decision 24 hours later, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

The government’s surprise announcement last week of a maritime demarcation agreement handing the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia caused an outcry in Egyptian newspapers and on social media. In an attempt to defuse the outcry, Al-Sisi announced, “Egypt didn’t relinquish a grain of sand. We didn’t surrender our rights but instead restored the rights of others.”

On social networking sites old maps were posted to prove that Tiran and Sanafir fall under Egyptian sovereignty. The hashtag “Friday of land” was used in more than 150,000 tweets and became a worldwide trend on Twitter.

“The secretive nature of the deal is suspicious. The state should have gauged our opinion in advance. Any decision over the fate of the two islands, or any other Egyptian territory, must be put up for public debate and a referendum according to the constitution,” Ahmed Abdel-Zaher, a lawyer who took part in Friday’s protest, told the Weekly.

“Papers, documents, history, geography, wars and blood say that the two islands fall under the Egyptian sovereignty,” lawyer and activist Malek Adli told TV channel Ten on Monday. “We have maps dating back to 1840 that show Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.”

According to Article 1 of the constitution, the Arab Republic of Egypt is a sovereign, united, indivisible state of which no part may be given up. Article 4 states: “Sovereignty belongs only to the people, who shall exercise and protect it.”

Article 151 states: “The President of the Republic shall represent the State in its foreign relations and conclude treaties and ratify them after the approval of the House of Representatives. Such treaties shall acquire the force of law following their publication in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

“Voters must be called for referendum on treaties related to making peace and alliances and those related to the rights of sovereignty. Such treaties shall be ratified only after the announcement of their approval in a referendum. In all cases, no treaty may be concluded which is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution or which results in ceding any part of state territories.”

Former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, who attended Friday’s protest, said that several cases have been filed to halt the decision to surrender the two islands.

“The goal of the cases is to expose the issues before the court and stir legal and constitutional debate,” Ali said during the protest in front of the Press Syndicate.

Ali and other protesters have called for an even larger demonstration on 25 April, the anniversary of Egypt regaining control of the Sinai Peninsula after it was occupied by Israel.

On the Friday on which protests were held, Al-Sisi was giving a speech to participants in the government’s newly launched Youth Leadership Programme at an event marking the opening of the Galala Mountain tourist site on the Red Sea.

“There’s a hellish scheme from within that some may not pay attention to. I don’t worry about attempts from the outside to destroy Egypt, instead I’m concerned about attempts from inside the country,” said Al-Sisi.

 

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