The photo taken on January 14, 2014, through the window of an airplane shows the Red Sea’s Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Strait of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. (AFP photo)
The Egyptian parliament has finally sealed a controversial agreement for the transfer of sovereignty of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.
During the vote on Wednesday, the 596-seat chamber ratified the 2016 deal under which Cairo would hand over its sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir, two islands located at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, to Saudi Arabia.
Almost all lawmakers in the chamber stood up to declare their approval of the agreement. That was a foregone conclusion as majority of the lawmakers support the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who signed the agreement during a visit last year by Saudi King Salman.
The vote comes after a three-day debate in a committee of the house, where some 40 lawmakers endorsed the agreement despite fierce opposition from a handful of others.
Sisi, a former army general who had reportedly served for a while as Egypt’s military attaché in Saudi Arabia, has faced growing public pressure over his decision to sign the agreement as many call it tantamount to treason. Reports said at the time that the Sisi administration had given up control over the islands in return for financial aid from Saudi Arabia. The president finally referred the deal to the parliament in December after it sparked growing protests across Egypt.
The parliament started the debate early on Wednesday, hours after fierce clashes erupted between police and protesters in downtown Cairo. The sit-in protest at the headquarters of the Egyptian Press Syndicate came right after the yes vote by the legislative and constitutional committee of the parliament. The committee not only approved the content of the accord on islands, but the legality of its referral to the legislature for ratification.
Former Egyptian presidential candidate Hamden Sabahy (C) attends with dozens of journalists a demonstration at the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo on June 13, 2017, after a controversial agreement for Cairo to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia passed an Egyptian parliamentary committee. (AFP photo)
Defying the public outrage, Sisi has defended the agreement over the past months, arguing that Tiran and Sanafir historically belong to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt took custody in the 1950s to protect them against potential aggression by Israel. His administration has also sought to ease public concerns about the transfer of the islands, saying Egypt would not totally abandon and would retain administrative control. It says Egyptian tourists would be free to visit the islands without visas even after Saudis take control.