Egyptian court upholds ruling on transfer of Red Sea islands

Egypt's top administrative court upholds a ruling voiding a government agreement to hand the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

Ben Ariel ,

Aerial view of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir
Aerial view of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir

Egypt's top administrative court on Monday upheld a ruling voiding a government agreement to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, AFP reports.

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had appealed against a lower court ruling in June that found the controversial border demarcation agreement was illegal.

In its ruling, the High Administrative Court said it was its "unanimous" decision that the two islands -- Tiran and Sanafir -- were sovereign Egyptian territories, according to AFP.

The courtroom erupted in cheers as the judge delivered the verdict, with lawyers and activists chanting, "These islands are Egyptian."

The decision came after the government referred the agreement to parliament for a vote.

Sisi announced the agreement with Saudi Arabia last April. The two islands provide Israel's only access to the port of Aqaba, though later reports suggested that Egypt informed Israel in advance of its intention to transfer the sovereignty over the two islands.

The agreement caused anger among the Egyptian public, who took to the streets to protest against Sisi. The President defended the agreement, saying Egypt did not give up territory but rather "restored" the rights of Saudi Arabia to the islands.

The court’s decision may further complicate ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a main financial backer of Sisi since the former army chief toppled his Islamist predecessor Mohamemd Morsi in 2013.

AFP reported that Saudi Arabia has already signalled unease by stopping a promised flow of oil to Egypt, leaving Cairo scrambling to find a new supplier.

Lawyers present in court told the news agency that Monday’s ruling was final, but a former senior judge said the government could still find a way to appeal it.