Lawyer files lawsuit against controversial Egyptian-Saudi maritime border agreement

Sunday 10-04-2016 08:30 PM

Egyptian President Abel Fattah al-Sisi during a meeting with Saudi King Salman on May 2, 2015 - Photo from the presidency

CAIRO, Apr 10 (Aswat Masriya) - An Egyptian lawyer filed a lawsuit with the administrative judiciary on Sunday challenging a maritime border demarcation agreement that stirred controversy on social media for rendering two Red Sea islands within Saudi territorial waters.

The lawsuit called for the annulment of the prime minister's decision to sign the border agreement, which is yet to be ratified by the parliament. 

At a time when Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz is on his first official visit to Cairo, the Egyptian cabinet said in a statement on Saturday that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have signed a maritime border agreement stipulating that the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within Saudi Arabia's territorial waters.

The cabinet said Saudi Arabia requested Egypt to protect both islands in 1950 and they had been under Egypt's control since then.

The Tiran Island is located in the Gulf of al-Aqaba, about 5 or 6 km from the Sinai Peninsula, and it has a total area of about 80 square km. Sanafir Island lies to the east of Tiran with a total area of 33 square km.

Located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the two islands are strategically significant as they both control maritime activity in the gulf. 

The agreement stirred debate on social media networking websites, with many Egyptian users blaming the government for "giving up Egyptian land" and arguing that the two islands are Egyptian. Others say the islands never belonged to Egypt.

Khaled Ali, the Egyptian lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said in a Facebook post that the case is "not personal" and that the issue needs major research and legal effort on the historical, geographical, constitutional and international levels.

Ali, who is a left-wing human rights lawyer and a former presidential candidate, called on those able to offer research assistance in the case to provide it.

Egyptian political scientist and columnist Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter that though the Egyptian government "should have addressed the public opinion with transparency" regarding the demarcation of maritime borders, the cabinet's statement is "accurate" and the islands do fall within Saudi territorial waters.

Legal researcher and political analyst Negad al-Borai, on the other hand, criticized the government's decision saying that any land in the government's possession "may not be relinquished" for any reason or at least without a referendum. 

Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at Harvard and the American University in Cairo, said in a Facebook post that even though he believes that national security emanates from citizens’ rights, not from the idea of the "sacredness" of land, “this regime is giving up national territory and threatening national security, as per its own definition” of national security, having "based its legitimacy” on the notion of “defending national territory" and given that it "has accused its enemies internally of being spies and traitors."

The agreement has come under fire from numerous other social media users who said Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has "sold Egypt" to the Saudi king in return for Saudi aid.

Egypt has enjoyed the support of Saudi Arabia, as well as of Gulf neighbours Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, since the military ouster of then-President Mohammed Mursi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

In the past two days, Sisi and the Saudi King signed agreements worth $25 billion with the aim of increasing cooperation between the two countries.

Last December, Saudi Arabia said it will raise its investments in Egypt to above 30 billion Saudi riyals ($8 billion) and pledged to contribute to providing Egypt with petroleum needs for the next five years. Earlier, in March 2015, Saudi Arabia pledged $4 billion in investments in and assistance for Egypt.

The cabinet said in its statement on Saturday that the agreement is set to be presented to the House of Representatives.   

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