Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A legal labyrinth

The government is continuing its attempts to overturn a court ruling preventing it from transferring ownership of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, Mona El-Nahhas reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The State Litigation Authority — the legal body representing the executive authority in cases contesting its decrees — launched an appeal before the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on 15 August seeking to overturn a 21 June ruling by the administrative court annulling the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement, signed in April, which cedes the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

Relying on documents presented by the claimants purporting to prove Egypt’s sovereignty over the two islands, the Administrative Court said Tiran and Sanafir must remain part of Egyptian territory. “It is forbidden to change their status in any form or through any procedure for the benefit of another state,” the court said. Public outcry and protests followed the signing of the agreement. Lawsuits were filed seeking the annulment of the deal. Large numbers of protesters were detained and though the majority were later released, 24 protestors remain behind bars. 

Meeting with the editors of state-owned newspapers on Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said that the government was dealing with the issue in accordance with the law and with full respect for state institutions. “We also have parliament, which represents the will of the people and which has the chance to thoroughly study the agreement,” he said.

In its appeal before the SCC, the State Litigation Authority argued the two islands always belonged to Saudi Arabia and had simply been administered on behalf of Saudi Arabia since the 1950s. It also claimed that the June administrative court ruling is procedurally flawed since the administrative courts have no jurisdiction over international agreements which are classified as acts of sovereignty. To back its argument the State Litigation Authority referred to two previous rulings passed by the SCC. In 1984 the SCC rejected an appeal contesting the joint Arab Defence Agreement on the grounds the pact was as an act of sovereignty. The same reasons were given by the SCC for rejecting an appeal opposing the 2007 constitutional amendments referendum. 

Legal experts agree the SCC must now decide whether or not the demarcation agreement can be considered an act of sovereignty. 

SCC sources told Al-Shorouk newspaper that filing the appeal before the SCC does not halt the implementation of the Administrative Court ruling. According to Article 50 of the State Council law, rulings passed by the administrative judiciary must be put into effect immediately following their issue. Appeals contesting them do not stop their implementation. The State Council panel assigned with examining appeals is the only body entitled to order a halt to the implementation of rulings.

Ragab Abdel-Hamid, deputy chief justice of the SCC, says it is too early to set a date for hearing the government’s appeal because “the SCC Commissioners Authority must first prepare a report to decide whether or not the SCC will accept the appeal”. 

The SCC appeal is the government’s last resort. It tried to halt the implementation of the Administrative Court ruling two days after it was issued, when the State Litigation Authority hurried to contest the judgement before the Higher Administrative Court, petitioning for its halt until a final ruling is passed.

When Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said he hoped a final ruling would be passed within a week, the hastiness in setting a date for hearing the government’s appeal rang alarm bells among the anti-agreement claimants.  

Fearing government interference the claimants filed a request on 26 June asking for the recusal of the court panel scheduled to hear the case. A decision on the recusal request is due by 27 August.

“Steps taken by the state to stop the implementation of the ruling can have no effect,” legal activist Tarek Al-Awadi said, adding that only a decision made by the State Council could halt the ruling and “this has not been issued so far”.

On his Facebook account former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, one of the lawyers who filed suits against the agreement, wrote: “Since the issue of the Administrative Court ruling the state has been seeking all legal and illegal paths to annul the ruling and stop its implementation. The state wants legal cover to refer the agreement to parliament to be finally endorsed”. 

Legally, parliament cannot discuss the demarcation agreement as long as it is still being heard before the courts. 

Legal niceties apart, Al-Awadi believes “it does not matter if they refer the agreement to parliament, if they violate the law and the constitution, since it is the people and history that will have the final say”.

Lawyer Essam Al-Islamboli does not think the government will gain anything by appealing to the SCC. Though the SCC has the right to rule on conflicts over the implementation of rulings its mandate only extends to conflicting final rulings dealing with same issue.  “The ruling of the Administrative Court regarding Tiran and Sanafir does not contradict with any other ruling passed from a judicial body. The SCC rulings which the government referred to in its appeal have nothing to do with the Tiran and Sanafir lawsuit,” says Al-Islamboli, for which reason he expects the SCC to reject the government’s appeal. 

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