Egyptian parliamentary committee backs Red Sea islands transfer

Tuesday's vote in the legislative and constitutional committee — 35 for, 8 against — is an important step toward the approval of the agreement by the full house, virtually a foregone conclusion given that an overwhelming majority of the chamber's 596 members support President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

"We have unanimously approved the maritime demarcation accord with Saudi Arabia and it will be voted on in the general session today", said Kamal Amer.

The Egyptian parliament has finally sealed a controversial agreement for the transfer of sovereignty of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

Parliamentary approval is nevertheless expected and pro-el-Sissi lawmakers say the chamber has a constitutional right to ratify any worldwide agreement.

Located between both countries at the top of the Red Sea, they are considered to be strategically important due to their proximity to ports in Jordan and Israel.

When the agreement came to light previous year it sparked the biggest protests of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's rule.

Lawmakers who supported the deal also persevered following the January ruling, stressing that parliament has the authority to ratify worldwide deals.

Mr Sisi said the islands had always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis had asked Egypt to station troops there in 1950 to protect them.

Another committee approved the deal on Tuesday.

Many Egyptian politicians have backed Egypt's claim over Tiran and Sanafir with a 1906 agreement between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire.

The announcement of the agreement, during a visit to Cairo by the Saudi king in April 2016, was followed by the largest anti-government protests since el-Sissi took office in 2014.

Several were briefly arrested before being released but "three reporters are still detained, and contacts are being made with the interior ministry to get them released".

The Egyptian opposition argued that the Parliament was not entitled to discuss the agreement with Saudi Arabia since the court ruling states that "in all cases, no treaty may be concluded that contradicts the provisions of the constitution or results in ceding any part of state territories". Egypt's unilateral closure of that lane was among the main reasons behind the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which Egypt lost the entire Sinai Peninsula.

  • Leroy Wright