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Egypt court ruling backs islands’ transfer to Saudi

SHARM EL SHEIKH: A picture taken through the window of an airplane shows the Red Sea’s Tiran (foreground) and the Sanafir (background) islands in the Straits of Tiran between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. — AP

CAIRO: An Egyptian court ruled yesterday that a judicial decision to block the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia was invalid, lawyers said, in a blow for opponents of a handover. The urgent matters court in Cairo invalidated a verdict by Egypt’s highest administrative court that went against the islands’ transfer. Saudi Arabia has been a main financial backer of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi since the former army chief toppled his Islamist predecessor in 2013.

The deal to hand over the islands, signed during an April 2016 visit by Saudi King Salman during which Riyadh showered Egypt with aid, provoked accusations that Cairo had “sold” the strategic islands. Cairo said the two islands – Tiran and Sanafir – were Saudi territory to start with, but had been leased to Egypt in the 1950s. The accord has sparked street protests and a legal battle between the government, which insists along with Sisi that the islands are Saudi, and lawyers opposed to the measure.

The urgent matters court ruled “in favor of disregarding the ruling of the high administrative court,” as “the judiciary doesn’t have the authority to interfere with matters of sovereignty”, said Ashraf Farahat, the lawyer who filed the latest lawsuit. Khaled Ali, a lawyer who argued in the administrative court that the islands belonged to Egypt, said yesterday’s verdict aimed to give the government “judicial cover” as it pushes to hand over the territory. “They are trying to forge false legitimacy through a court lacking competence to justify presenting the agreement to parliament,” Ali told AFP.

Tarek El-Khouli secretary of parliament’s foreign relations committee, said the government has submitted the case to the house but debates have yet to start. “There are extreme contradictions over the matter of competence.  Some describe the issue as a matter of sovereignty and therefore should not be under the judiciary’s competence,” while others say the opposite, said Khouli. “We are now in front of two contradictory rulings. With this contradiction, in my opinion, this matter should be settled by the supreme constitutional court,” said Khouli. – AFP

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