Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Island agreement back in court

A year after protesters took to the streets to oppose their being handed to Saudi Arabia the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir are once again in the limelight

Archival photo of a protest opposing the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement
Archival photo of a protest opposing the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement

Some political forces have been marking the first anniversary of protests opposing the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement. Signed on 9 April 2016, the agreement cedes control of the two strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

Tens of protesters took to the streets on 15 April 2016 and denounced the agreement as the “sale of Egyptian land in return for financial aid”. On 22 April 16 liberal and leftist parties and 163 public figures founded the Campaign to Defend Land. On 25 April, Sinai Liberation Day, protests broke out in several provincial governorates.

According to a recent report by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, 432 demonstrators were arrested during last year’s protests against the demarcation deal. Of the total 141 were cleared of all charges, 56 received hefty fines and charges were shelved against 144 protesters.

Since the agreement was signed dozens of lawsuits have been filed before the administrative judiciary calling for its annulment. The claimants relied on Article 151 of the constitution which prohibits the signing of any agreement that leads to the ceding of Egyptian territory. They produced hundreds of documents to support their petitions.

In June 2016 the Administrative Court ruled the islands were sovereign Egyptian territory. The government contested the first-degree ruling only for the agreement’s opponents to secure a final ruling in their favour on 16 January 2017.

When an urgent matters court ruled in favour of the agreement the government then appealed to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).

Legal experts say the SCC is unlikely to side with the government. They also question whether the SCC has the authority to review final administrative rulings.

The government’s last recourse was to refer the deal to parliament for endorsement, which they duly did. The House of Representatives, whose support of the government is no secret, then began the process of discussing an agreement already annulled by the judiciary.

Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said on 10 April that the agreement had been referred to parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Abdel-Aal’s statement was issued on the same day President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency following the Palm Sunday church bombings. Commentators say the timing of the statements suggests Abdel-Aal intends to push the agreement through parliament. With all forms of peaceful protests banned, MPs will face little reaction should they endorse the deal.

In response, lawyer Khaled Ali has filed a complaint before the prosecutor-general suing President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Abdel-Aal for “harming Egyptian sovereignty”.

On Saturday, ahead of Al-Sisi’s visit to Saudi Arabia after months of tense bilateral relations, Abdel-Aal announced that parliament’s discussion of the agreement would be held within days.

Medhat Al-Zahed, acting chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and a leading member of the Campaign to Defend Land said: “I doubt very much that the Egyptian-Saudi summit will address the transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia.”

Ali told a symposium held last week at the Alexandria offices of the liberal Dostour Party that “I never thought that one day I would stand in court defending land against the state.” The symposium was organised to mark the first anniversary of the protests against the demarcation deal.

“Our mission now is to convince MPs, via public pressure, not to discuss this voided agreement,” says Al-Zahed. He warned that if parliament did insist on discussing the agreement “we will file a lawsuit asking for the House of Representatives to be dissolved.”

Ali has already filed a lawsuit seeking to ban the House of Representatives from discussing “a null and void agreement”. The Administrative Court is due to rule on the suit on 23 May.

Parliament continues to argue it is the only body empowered by the constitution to discuss international agreements.

“Anyone who wants to know our reasons for opposing the agreement should read the ruling of the administrative judiciary,” says Maasoum Marzouk, a leading member of islands’ defence team. “The rulings were sufficiently clear to convince even Israel that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.”

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