An agreement signed on Friday that re-establishes maritime zones in the Red Sea between Egypt and Saudi Arabia sparked concern over the legality of cessation of two Egypt-administrated islands to Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail signed an agreement with the Saudi deputy crown prince Mohamed bin Salman, the details of which were not fully announced.
The agreement announcement caused concern as unconfirmed reports hinted that the delimitation would see the cession of Egypt’s islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
The delimitation of maritime borders was first recognised in 2010. Saudi Arabia, in observance of United Nations conventions, declared the delimitation of the baselines for its maritime zones. Egypt responded to the declaration by informing the UN that it would deal with the new Saudi baselines so as not to contravene Egypt’s stance in the bilateral negotiations on the maritime borders.
In July 2015, the Cairo Declaration, a document signed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and King Salman, was meant to reinforce the strategic alliance between the two countries. It also enhances mutual cooperation on six different levels, notably in the military, investment, trade, politics, culture, and media sectors.
The final point of the declaration was the delimitation of maritime borders and a series of meetings between Egyptian and Saudi officials, both in Riyadh and Cairo, which took place until the agreement was signed on Friday.
The islands in question have historically witnessed a back and forth in ownership between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Israel briefly in 1967. The islands were restored to Egyptian administration in 1982 following the peace accords signed between Egypt and Israel.
Legal experts and public figures weighed in on the issue as they expressed concern over the constitutionality of giving away authority over Egyptian territories, which defies the constitution “even with public referendum”.
Veteran constitutional jurist Nour Farahat commented on the news, calling on authorities to reveal the details of the agreement.
Farahat said that, according to article 151 of the constitution, relinquishing authority over territory violates the constitution, even if it was ratified by parliament and passed by public referendum.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told journalists, following his meeting with King Salman, that the agreement will be presented to parliament for ratification. Other objections to the agreement stemmed from a perspective beyond the constitutionality as the chairperson of the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper Ahmed El-Naggar said in a Facebook post on Saturday that Tiran is an island that Egyptians have defended heroically, referring to restoring the island from the short-lived Israeli occupation, and asserting that the “elements of our national borders are untouchable”.