Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The final say on islands

The court case on Tiran and Sanafir reopens next week, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

Next Saturday, 8 October, the Higher Administrative Court will for the first time review a government appeal contesting a previous court ruling which proved Egypt’s ownership of the two strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Passed in June, the Administrative Court ruling annulled the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement signed in April in which Egypt ceded the two islands to Saudi Arabia.

The Administrative Court said in its ruling issued on 21 June that Tiran and Sanafir should remain part of Egyptian territory. “It is forbidden to change their status in any form or through any procedure for the benefit of any other state,” the court said. The ruling was in accordance with Article 151 of the 2014 constitution which stipulates that treaties leading to the ceding of any part of state territory should not be signed.

Saturday’s hearing comes in the wake of a controversial ruling passed on 29 September by the Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs that issued an injunction against the Administrative Court ruling. The ruling of the Court for Urgent Affairs came in response to a lawsuit filed by lawyer Ashraf Farahat who demanded that implementation of the Administrative Court ruling be stopped. Following the issue of the urgent affairs ruling, Farahat, who does not represent the government and who has no direct interest in the case, hailed the ruling as “a victory for Egypt”. The urgent affairs ruling sparked an outcry among users of social networking sites who again expressed their opposition to the agreement and insisted on Egypt’s historical right to the two islands.

Legal experts criticised the ruling of the Court for Urgent Affairs, arguing that the State Council’s panel assigned with examining appeals is the only body entitled to stop the implementation of the Administrative Court ruling.

Khaled Ali, one lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the borders demarcation agreement, said that after receiving a copy, he would ask that the ruling of the Court for Urgent Affairs before a higher panel be abolished. “The ruling is void. The Court for Urgent Affairs usurped the authority of the State Council,” Ali said. According to Article 190 of the constitution, the State Council is an independent judicial body, the sole body entrusted with deciding on appeals related to the implementation of its rulings. “This means that the implementation of any of its rulings can be stopped only if a new ruling is issued by one of its courts. No other judicial body has the authority to halt or abolish its rulings,” Ali explained.

Prominent legal expert Nour Farahat said the ruling of the Urgent Affairs Court will have no effect because it violates the constitution and the State Council law. “If the government decided to refer the borders demarcation agreement to parliament to get an endorsement in light of such a faulty ruling, then it would announce to everyone that the constitution does not matter,” Farahat said.

Farahat called for the formation of a committee of senior law professors to put down legislative regulations that would clearly define the authority of the urgent affairs courts and guarantee that such courts would not exceed their role. “Such regulations should be submitted to parliament as soon as possible because it is an urgent matter related to the system of legitimacy in Egypt,” Farahat added.

Ali said he could not rule out the possibility that the government would take such a step. “The government is ready to do anything to endorse the agreement,” he said.

Following its signing, the agreement stoked widespread public anger and mass protests. Dozens of demonstrators opposed to the agreement received jail terms although a large number were later released. A few are still in detention.

On Saturday, journalist Mahmoud Al-Saqqa was freed after paying the LE5,000 fine set by the criminal court which ordered his release. Al-Saqqa had been detained since May on charges related to his opposition to the Egyptian-Saudi agreement.

Rights lawyer Malek Adli and journalist Amr Badr, who spent around four months behind bars, were released in August. Al-Saqqa, Adli and Badr described the ruling of the Administrative Court as “historic”.

The Administrative Court ruling blocked the government’s apparent intention to refer the agreement to parliament in order to get approval.

Three days following the ruling, the State Litigation Authority — the legal body representing the executive authority in cases contesting its decrees — appealed the ruling before the Higher Administrative Court seeking its stoppage until a final ruling is passed.

The authority argued that the June ruling violated the law, insisting that the administrative judiciary does not have the jurisdiction to rule on international agreements which are classified as acts of sovereignty. The authority also claimed that the two islands belong to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt has been administering them on behalf of the Saudis since the 1950s.

On 18 October the Higher Administrative Court will decide whether to halt implementation of the first degree ruling.

On 15 August the State Litigation Authority appealed to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) that it overturns the Administrative Court ruling. The SCC has not yet set a date for hearing the government’s appeal. The SCC must wait until its commissioners authority prepares a report on the appeal.

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