An Egyptian court has struck down an agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which would have seen two strategic Red Sea islands transferred to Saudi control.
News of the deal, struck earlier this year between Cairo’s cash-strapped government and Riyadh, provoked angry protests by Egyptians, who saw the agreement as a blow to national sovereignty.
Under the agreement, announced in April, the Sanafir and Tiran islands – which are located off the coast of Eilat in southern Israel – would have been ceded to Saudi Arabia. The two islands provide Israel’s only access to the Port of Aqaba; it was an Egyptian blockade of that passage which helped spark the 1967 Six Day War. Israel had apparently been notified of the deal.
Egyptian officials defended the agreement by noting that both islands had been under Saudi control until 1950, when Riyadh asked Cairo to “protect them” from Israel. They were captured during the Six Day War and handed to Egypt under its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
But the court was unimpressed, and rejected the deal according to reports Tuesday.
Egypt’s government can still appeal the ruling in a higher court, which it is likely to do – though that may risk renewed protests.
The government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is desperate for Saudi aid as it continued to struggle with a shattered economy and growing debts, following years of instability after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and his Islamist successor Mohammed Morsi in 2013.