A 67 years old historical dispute has come to an end in the Red Sea after the Egyptian government unanimously approved on Wednesday handing over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
Not only did Cairo demarcate maritime border with Saudi Arabia but also returned two inhabited islands located in the Red Sea at the southern entrance of the Gulf. The islands were annexed by Egypt at the request of former Saudi King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, who wanted to protect them against a possible Israeli occupation in 1950.
Egypt’s transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia is a part of a deal to construct $5-billion bridge on the Red Sea, connecting the two countries.
In April 2016, during a visit to Cairo, Saudi monarch secured the promise of plucking the islands from Egypt. Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced and signed the agreement back then.
Since the announcement of the transfer, Mr. Sisi has faced an unusual backlash both from a top court, which ruled against the transfer and from some Egyptians. Rare public protests were staged in the country opposing the idea of transferring the two islands. Many took on the social media to denounce Egyptian government’s decision.
Lawmakers had fiercely debated the transfer of the islands in the Egyptian Parliament for at least 3 days before an unsurprising approval. Despite the parliament’s approval, the transfer of the islands is not final. Courts can challenge the decision by Mr. Sisi, who took office through a military coup in 2013 and block the transfer.
Handing over soil — considered sacred by many — to another country could be a politically explosive gambit. Egypt is poised to hold presidential elections in the first half of next year. To what extent the transfer of the islands will have an impact on the outcome of elections is yet to be seen.
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