Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Awaiting parliament’s decision

The fate of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir may be uppermost in the public’s mind but it has yet to top parliament’s agenda, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

An agreement demarcating maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is to be presented to parliament for legal and constitutional review and — if all goes according to government plans — final ratification. But will MPs vote in favour?

The controversial agreement, signed during an official visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz to Cairo on 8 April, places the islands of Tiran and Sanafir squarely in Saudi maritime territory.

Despite the authorities’ zero tolerance of street protests, two modest demonstrations have already been held to oppose the return of the two islands to Saudi Arabia, enough to exercise pressure on parliament.

Al-Ahram political analyst Osama Al-Ghazali Harb believes that staging a serious and objective debate over the islands represents a major challenge for MPs.

“All eyes will be focussed on parliament, not only because it has the final say on this agreement — it can decide whether it should be placed before the public in a referendum or not — but because the way it handles the issue will allow citizens to judge whether it is a democratic and powerful forum or just another Mubarak-style rubber-stamping body,” said Harb.

On Saturday, parliament voted on the heads of 25 parliamentary committees. Three political forces — the pro-Sisi Support Egypt coalition and the Free Egyptians and Wafd parties — divided the leading positions on 18 committees between them. The Reform and Development Party, Congress Party, Protectors of the Nation Party, and the 25-30 bloc each managed to win the chair of a committee, while just one independent — former minister of social solidarity Ali Al-Moselhi — was elected.

A majority of the newly elected heads of parliamentary committees stressed their readiness to discuss the Egyptian-Saudi deal in an objective and transparent manner.

“Nobody can make a final judgement on the deal without having first studied all the documents related to the two islands,” said Mohamed Al-Orabi, a former foreign minister and now the head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Al-Orabi thinks it likely that a number of committees, rather than just one, will be entrusted with reviewing the Egyptian-Saudi agreement.

“Ultimately, it is up to the speaker Ali Abdel-Aal to decide how the debate will proceed,” said Al-Orabi. “He can specify which committees review this agreement or — and I think this is the best option — decide to form a joint committee to review the many different aspects of the deal.”

When membership of the House of Representatives’ 25 committees was finally decided on Saturday many expected the government would immediately refer the maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia to parliament for review. Ali Abdel-Aal, however, told MPs that all he has so far received from the government are “four economic agreements, one of them detailing cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the field of power generation”.

On Sunday, Abdel-Aal told reporters that following committee elections the parliamentary agenda will be dominated by debates on the 2016-2017 budget.

“Political laws stipulated by the constitution as priorities — legislation necessary to form a national election commission and laws regulating media outlets, local council elections and the construction of churches — are also due to be presented to parliament soon,” he said.

On 23 April, Abdel-Aal announced that parliament’s next plenary session would be held in two weeks’ time, on 8 May. This means there is no possibility that the Tiran and Sanafir agreement will be discussed any time soon.

Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif, however, pointed out, “The agreement could be referred to parliament during this period and it will then be up to the speaker to decide how it will be discussed and what committees will lead the discussion.”

On Monday, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati announced that the government has yet to decide when it will refer the maritime border agreement to parliament.

“The government will only send it to parliament when a comprehensive dossier containing all relevant maps and documents on maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is compiled,” said Al-Agati. “Only when this dossier is complete — and I don’t think it will take too long — will the agreement be referred to parliament.”

Kamal Amer, the newly elected chairman of the Defence and National Security Committee, told reporters on Sunday, “The committee’s review of the Tiran and Sanafir deal must be discussed in the presence of officials from the military and intelligence agencies and from the institutions in charge of keeping national archives.”

Amer, a former chief of military intelligence, said his party supports the transfer of sovereignty over the two islands. “All the documents — including two new ones published by late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s daughter Hoda — show that Tiran and Sanafir are part of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In Tuesday’s Al-Ahram, Hoda Abdel-Nasser published “a secret document dated 28/2/1950 [that] shows Egypt occupied Tiran and Sanafir on behalf of Saudi Arabia in order to stand up to Israeli threats to the two Red Sea islands.”

Another document, dated 17 February 1958 and signed by Nasser, shows that Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to allow Egyptian Armed Forces to remain on Tiran and Sanafir because of the islands’ strategic position at the entrance of the Gulf of Al-Aqaba.

Yehia Al-Qidwani, deputy chairman of the Defence and National Security Committee, described protests against the Tiran and Sanafir deal as a conspiracy that seeks to destabilise Egypt.

“If documents support the government’s agreement, and the two islands return to Saudi Arabia, a brotherly Arab state and not an enemy, why should there be protests?” asked Al-Qidwani.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat and the newly elected chairman of the Human Rights Committee, condemned the arrest of activists opposed to the agreement.

“I am not in favour of demonstrations either for or against the agreement, but citizens have the right to organise peaceful protests,” said Al-Sadat, adding, “The final say on Tiran and Sanafir should not be left solely to parliament.”

Said Al-Sadat, “I think there should be some kind of political dialogue on this national issue before it is discussed in parliament. I would also urge parliament to discuss the agreement very carefully, and in dialogue with all political forces and civil society organisations.”

He added, “We need to listen to all voices, whether they are for or against the deal.”

Al-Sadat urged the Interior Ministry to release all those it had detained during the protests.

“The Interior Ministry insists that some of these activists had conspired to exploit the protests to spread chaos. If that is the case then the detainees must be referred to the prosecution authorities. If the referrals are not made then they must be released, as the constitution stipulates,” said Al-Sadat.


add comment

  • follow us on