Egypt’s Sisi ratifies deal ceding Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

By Ahmed Aboulenein

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday ratified an agreement that cedes sovereignty over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, brushing off widespread public criticism of the deal.

The Red Sea islands accord has become politically sensitive for Sisi. He counts on Saudi Arabia as a key ally, but street protests broke out over the agreement last year among Egyptians angered over the concession.

Egypt’s parliament last week backed the deal handing control of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, but it has also become the subject of a legal tussle between different courts over jurisdiction.

“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified the maritime demarcation agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the cabinet said in a statement.

The announcement was made just as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends and on the eve of Eid al-Fitr festivities, a major public holiday when Egyptians are busy preparing to spend time with their families.

The presidency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Government lawyer Rafiq Sharif told Reuters the decree was now law and the two uninhabited islands were under Saudi sovereignty.

All court decisions on the agreement were temporarily suspended this week by the head of the constitutional court, until it makes a ruling on which institution had the final say.

Parliamentary leaders and government lawyers say the House of Representatives is the only entity allowed to rule on sovereignty. But in June last year the country’s highest administrative court ruled Egypt’s sovereignty must stand.

Sisi’s government announced the maritime agreement last year with Saudi Arabia, an ally which has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt. The Egyptian and Saudi governments said the islands are Saudi but have been subject to Egyptian protection.

Saudi Arabia had helped Sisi since he toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood…

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