Egypt ratifies controversial handover of two strategic islands to Saudi Arabia

Egypt ratifies controversial handover of two strategic islands to Saudi Arabia
Following months of legal wrangling and public protests, Egypt’s president approved the transfer of the isles of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, with opponents accusing the government of selling territory in exchange for Saudi subsidies.

“President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ratified the maritime demarcation agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” read a statement from the cabinet office.

The handover of the two uninhabited islands, initially announced in 2016, was approved by parliament on June 14, amid heated scenes both inside and outside the chambers.

Cairo and Riyadh say the islands are located in Saudi territorial waters and were leased to Egypt in 1950, at the behest of the Saudi authorities, as Egypt was better placed to use the isles to control Israel. The two rocky outcrops guard the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel’s only access point to the Red Sea and all southern maritime trade routes.

The islands were occupied by Israel during two conflicts and were last returned to Egypt in 1978, as part of the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty between the two countries that endures to this day.

Opponents of the handover say the islands were first granted to Egypt by a treaty signed between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in 1906, at a time when modern-day Saudi Arabia did not even exist as a state.

They charge that Riyadh’s claims came much later and say the handover was agreed following years of talks and, pointedly, forms part of a $23 billion aid and investment package signed between Saudi Arabia and Egypt in April last year.

Since then, lawyers have challenged the decision in court, with victories for both camps at various stages. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled that all previous legal decisions endorsing the transfer of the two islands are void. A lawyer arguing for the retention of the islands told the media that ”the ruling signifies that the land is Egyptian… even if the president ratified the handover agreement”

Sisi, who came to power following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, has argued that the return is a matter of “constitutions and laws and legitimate rights, not whims or emotions,” and says that it is not the prerogative of the legal, but the executive branch to decide the islands’ fate.

It remains unclear what further challenges await the reassignment of Sanafir and Tiran, but over the past year, Saudi Arabia cut fuel subsidies to Cairo, in what many believe was a move designed to put more pressure on struggling Egypt to expedite the transfer.

Arab states want obedience from Qatar, alternative is parting ways – UAE minister

Arab states want obedience from Qatar, alternative is parting ways – UAE minister
The Arab states which isolated Qatar earlier this month aren’t seeking regime change in the country but rather, an attitude change and want all their recently delivered demands to be fulfilled by Doha, Anwar Gargash, UAE’s foreign minister has said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt and several other nations suddenly announced that they were severing diplomatic ties and transportation links with Qatar on June 5, accusing the Gulf monarchy of financing terrorism and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

On Thursday, the four nations presented a rigid 13-point ultimatum to Doha, giving the country a ten day deadline to comply if it wants the air, land and sea blockade lifted.

Gargash told reporters that the Arab Gulf states are seeking “behavioral change” and not “regime change” from Qatar, AP reported.

Doha risks being banished from the Arab family if it fails to fulfill the demands of the quartet, he emphasized.

“The alternative is not escalation, the alternative is parting of ways, because it is very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping,” Gargash said as cited by Reuters.

The minister said a diplomatic solution remains a priority, but added, that Kuwait’s mediation efforts were undermined by the leaking of the ultimatum’s text.

AP has obtained a copy of the Arab demands “from one of the countries involved in the dispute,” revealing that Qatar, among other things, is being pressured to cut ties with Iran, stop its support for Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups, shut down its Al Jazeera broadcaster, close a military base housing Turkish troops on its territory and pay a fine.

“The mediators’ ability to shuttle between the parties and try and reach a common ground has been compromised by this leak. Their success is very dependent on their ability to move but not in the public space,” Gargash said.

READ MORE: Turkey has no intention of closing Qatar base despite Saudi ultimatum

During his news conference in Dubai, the minister didn’t specify what additional measures could be implemented against Qatar, in addition to the already existing blockade, if Doha fails to institute their demands.

Qatar said on Saturday said that it was reviewing the list of demands, but underlined that it was only doing so “out of respect for our brothers in Kuwait,” who delivered the ultimatum.

Director of Qatar’s government’s communications office, Sheikh Saif Al Thani, said the Arab quartet demands fell short of being “reasonable and realistic.”

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia & allies demand Qatar close Turkish base, shut Al Jazeera & more within 10 days

He said it only confirmed that “the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy.”

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