Egypt’s Court of Urgent Matters has ruled that a judicial decision made by a top court to block the controversial transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia is void, arguing that it had no jurisdiction over the matter.
The Sunday ruling would potentially revive the government’s contentious decision, which was made last April, in putting the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia, after it was blocked by the High Administrative Court back in January 16.
Since its announcement by the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Cairo-Riyadh controversial maritime re-demarcation has triggered unprecedented protests by the Egyptian public and a large number of lawyers who believe the islands are Egyptian. The deal also initiated a lengthy litigation process by both the government and the opponents.
Demonstrators have accused Sisi of surrendering Egyptian territory in return for Saudi money amid reports that Cairo was receiving 20 billion dollars in aid from Riyadh to relinquish sovereignty of the islands. Egyptian courts have so far given prison terms to hundreds of protesters.
Malek Adly, an opponent lawyer, criticized the Sunday ruling, saying it was beyond the jurisdiction of the Court of Urgent Matters, which also could not challenge rulings handed down by the Higher Administrative Court, as the latter has higher judicial authority.
“This is a dangerous precedent that violates the constitution, and the Supreme Judicial Council has to decide what to do next with this verdict,” he added.
The Higher Administrative Court’s annulment of the deal, however, is subject to appeal, and any final transfer agreement must be approved by the Egyptian parliament.
In March, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the parliament would discuss and vote on the accord, adding that the discussion would be “in accordance with its constitutional powers… once some procedures and paperwork are completed in the next few days.”
The legislators have not voted on the deal yet.
Riyadh and Cairo argue that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and that the Arab kingdom asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them. However, lawyers and opponents say Egypt’s sovereignty over the islands dates back to a 1906 treaty, before Saudi Arabia was founded.
The uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir lie about four kilometers apart in the Red Sea. They are situated in the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories.