Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A legal labyrinth

Can the Supreme Constitutional Court determine the fate of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir? Mona El-Nahhas explores the options

A legal labyrinth
A legal labyrinth

A report issued on 14 June by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) Commissioners’ Authority says the government’s appeal of an administrative court ruling against the Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation agreement should be rejected. The report found the court’s ruling was constitutionally sound.

The advisory opinion is not binding on the SCC. It was nonetheless hailed as an important step by opponents of the agreement under which the two red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran will be transferred to Saudi Arabia.

“The opinion supports the Administrative Court ruling and recognises the validity of the legal steps we took against the deal,” says Khaled Ali, the lawyer leading legal action against the deal.

The SCC is scheduled to begin hearing the government’s appeal on 30 July.

A statement issued by the SCC noted that the report did not address issues related to sovereignty over the islands. “The SCC is keen not to be dragged into any political clash. The SCC practises its authorities as defined by the law and the constitution,” said the statement.

The report was published within hours of the House of Representatives approving the border demarcation agreement which sources say will be activated as soon as it is ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The pro-regime Support Egypt Coalition, the majority parliamentary bloc, has called upon Al-Sisi to ratify the agreement as soon as possible.

The speed with which parliament agreed the deal suggests the authorities are determined to push it to a conclusion.

“Talk of Al-Sisi objecting to the agreement and referring it back to parliament is wishful thinking,” says lawyer Tarek Negeida. He suspects ratification of the agreement will be announced during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

MPs’ endorsement of an agreement rejected in January by the Higher Administrative Court saw many of the deals’ opponents take to social media to express their anger. Protests called in front of the Press Syndicate and at several Downtown streets were forcibly dispersed. Sit-ins at the headquarters of political parties were staged amid a heavy security blockade, and the 102 MPs opposed to the agreement announced a series of escalatory steps, including submitting their collective resignation from parliament. Members of professional syndicates signed statements opposed to the handover to Saudi Arabia of the two islands and calls were made for a major protest at Tahrir Square on 16 June were announced. Detentions targeting dozens of political and rights activists ahead of the Friday protest foiled the move.

“If the SCC accepts the report of its commissioners and rejects the government appeal this means the agreement is annuled,” argues lawyer Malek Adli.

Rafik Sherif, deputy chairman of the State Litigation Auhtority — the judicial body representing the state — disagrees. “The legal disputes over the ownership of the two islands were finally settled with parliament’s approval,” Sherif told the press.

He insisted that under the constitution parliament was the sole arbiter of international agreements and “the judiciary has no right to interfere in agreements classified as acts of sovereignty.”

“The battle is not over yet. There are a number of legal avenues still open,” says Negeida.

“Lawsuits contesting parliament’s approval of the agreement will be filed before the administrative courts. We will also appeal to the SCC contesting the constitutionality of the agreement.”

The SCC must now revise the agreement and rule on the constitutionality of its articles.

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