Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Islands in rough seas

 Mona El-Nahhas reports on what awaits Tiran and Sanafir

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Tuesday, the administrative court set 21 June as the date it will issue its ruling on the two lawsuits filed by former presidential candidate Khaled Ali and lawyer Ali Ayoub, calling for annulling the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement.

By means of the agreement, which the two countries signed in April, Egypt ceded the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, a contentious decision which ignited public anger in Egypt. Mass protests against the agreement were held and dozens of lawsuits filed in the administrative judiciary.

The claimants insist that the agreement is null and void because it violates official documents going back to 1906, which they say prove that the two islands are 100 per cent Egyptian.

During nearly two hours of proceedings on Tuesday, Ali presented reportedly important documents which prove the Egyptian nature of the two islands.

The agreement also violates Article 151 of the 2014 constitution, which stipulates that treaties violating the constitution or leading to the ceding of any part of state territory should not be signed, the claimants argued in the lawsuits.

At Tuesday’s session the administrative court was scheduled to reply to a report prepared by the State Council’s Commissioners Authority regarding the status of the two islands.

In its report submitted to the court on 7 June, the Commissioners Authority recommended the formation of a committee of experts to determine whether the two islands fall within Egyptian territory.

The reason for the appeal to such a specialised committee was because many technical details presented to the court are still unclear, making it difficult to draw a conclusion about the legality of the agreement, the authority said in its report.

However, the court did not refer to the Commissioners Authority report while hearing the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Before Tuesday’s session, Ali and Ayoub, together with legal activists who filed similar lawsuits, hailed the recommendation by the Commissioners Authority, viewing it as a positive step.

“The recommendation was contrary to expectations,” Ali wrote in a Facebook post on 8 June. “Many expected the court to consider the agreement as constituting an act of sovereignty and quash the lawsuit on the grounds that it lies outside the court’s jurisdiction. All such fears are now over and the case has started to take its normal course.”

Still, Ali admits that they are facing “a real and major legal battle that has political, constitutional and international repercussions”.

Judge Mohamed Hamed Al-Gamal, former deputy chief justice of the State Council, views the recent move taken by the court as a preparatory measure to quashing the lawsuit. “The State Council is authorised to hear administrative decrees. Decrees related to acts of sovereignty lie outside its jurisdiction, according to the constitution,” Al-Gamal said.

Tarek Al-Awadi, a prominent rights lawyer who filed another lawsuit against the agreement, said it is unlikely that the court would turn down the case at this stage. “What we achieved so far is a victory. It proves the documents that lawyers submitted were strong enough for the court to consider the report,” Al-Awadi told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday.

The documents presented to the court reportedly proving Egypt’s ownership of the two islands included international agreements, government-authenticated maps and testimonies of historians at different periods of time. Most of the documents were collected from citizens who responded to a call by the claimants.

“The public’s participation lent the lawsuits an important dimension before the court,” Ali said in his post, calling upon individuals concerned to present further documents and to attend all court sessions.

The Commissioners Authority, affiliated to the administrative judiciary, is authorised to present legal opinions about lawsuits heard at both the administrative court and the higher administrative court. Such opinions submitted ahead of rulings are not binding by the court.

The Commissioners Authority tasked the specialised committee with presenting a summary of the history of the two islands, along with documents that prove which country owns them. According to the Commissioners Authority recommendation, the committee should have access to all relevant documents, if needed, at the Egyptian Documents House, the Geographical Society, the Foreign Ministry and other government bodies. The committee should have the right to interpret such documents and photocopy them, the report said.

The report also criticised the State Litigation Authority for not presenting documents that could prove the authenticity of the government’s stance regarding the Saudi claim to the islands. The State Council, in a previous hearing, fined the government LE200 for failing to provide the necessary documents, something that would lead to a delay in issuing a ruling, according to the court.

However, on Sunday, the State Litigation Authority, representing the president and the government, submitted a defence memorandum in which it stressed that the administrative judiciary and the judiciary in general has no jurisdiction to hear such lawsuits. “The lawsuit is related to an act of sovereignty and not an administrative decree,” the authority said in its memorandum.

The State Litigation Authority added that parliament is the sole authority that has a constitutional right to control acts of the executive authority. Parliament is due to discuss the Egyptian-Saudi agreement once the cabinet submits it to MPs.

While meeting with a group of selected public figures on 13 April, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed that the two islands are owned by Saudi Arabia, according to documents, and asked that the issue not be broached further.

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