Many in Egypt insist Sanafir and Tiran islands are Egyptian

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 12 Apr 2016

The two islands are Egyptian, argue a number of politicians, experts and public figures

Tiran Island can bee seen a few kilometers away from a beach of the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, February 27, 2016 (Photo: Lina El-Wardani)

The debate about the identity of Red Sea islands Sanafir and Tiran continued for the fourth day following the Saturday decision by the Egyptian government to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia.

Dozens of Egyptian public figures, including Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi and leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, issued a statement on Tuesday rejecting the recent Saudi-Egyptian deal which leaves the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir within Saudi regional waters.

"The two islands are considered an Egyptian property and the constitution, which was approved by Egyptians, prevents any authority from ceding any parts of Egyptian territory," the statement read. Many Egyptians, including public figures, renowned politicians and experts, have expressed disapproval and anger over the decision, with criticism continuing to grow on social media.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party announced it was against the decision and called on the Egyptian House of Representatives not to ratify the decree.

It also announced that its headquarters were open for the public to issue powers of attorney to file a lawsuit in order to stop the implementation of this agreement.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will have a meeting on Wednesday with representatives of Egyptian civil society to discuss the latest developments in the country, with some speculating that he will discuss the matter of the two islands.   

The argument for Egyptian ownership

While the Egyptian government says that there is no evidence that the two islands are Egyptian, many who reject the decision are sharing what they claim to be evidence to the contrary; from maps, documents to video speeches asserting they are Egyptian islands.

Earlier Sunday, renowned map researcher and exporter Heidi Farouk said that both Sanafir and Tiran are "100 percent Egyptian."

"I was assigned in 2006 by the Egyptian authorities to document the status and position of the two islands to determine whether they were Saudi or Egyptian," she said, adding that she and her team determined the islands were indeed Egyptian.

Farouk, who participated in the redrawing of maritime borders between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, stated that the Islands were considered part of Sinai, and thus Egyptian, according to ancient maps.

Farouk cited maps including the Roman-era Tabula Peutingeriana and the Description de L'Egypte map, which she says she has presented to the Egyptian authorities.

Slamming the decision, Farouk said that the government was only depending on a confidential letter sent in 1990 by Egypt's foreign minister Esmat Abdel-Magid to late minister Atef Sadik.

The letter, which was published in Egyptian media in the past two days, read that Saudi Arabia confidentially demanded twice, in 1988 and 1989, to take over the two islands that Egypt "occupied" in 1950.

The letter added that according to the research conducted by the ministry, the two islands were determined to be outside Egyptian territory and accordingly they should return to Saudi Arabia.

Those who assert that the islands are Egyptian say that the letter does not prove the islands are Saudi because the Egyptian government continued to consider Tiran and Sanafir part of Egyptian territory for over two decades afterwards.  

Farouk stated that in 2006 she read the letter, which was not sent to the head of the state at the time, and did not see a single official Saudi document requesting the islands since the 1950s.  

Farouk also quoted experts from Naom Pasha Shokier's book 'The Old and Modern History of Sinai,' which was published in 1916 and identified the two islands as part of Sinai.

Shokeir, a Lebanese-Egyptian army officer and geographer in the early 20th century, was part of the Egyptian delegation negotiating with the Ottoman Empire over the Taba crisis in 1906.  

The book is being circulated online among Egyptians who believe that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian islands.

Farouk also revealed that in 1908 an Egyptian ministerial decree was issued to build a lighthouse in Sanafir Island, adding that she had a copy from that decree.

She also said that in 1956 during the Suez crisis, there were 14 transcripts of UN meetings that recognised Egyptian sovereignty over the islands.   

Ahram Online reached out to Farouk for comment, but the researcher declined to speak, saying that she had gotten into "a lot of trouble" after speaking to ONTV.

Farouk's assertions were not the only arguments cited by critics of the deal over the islands.

Dr. Sabry El-Adl, the former managing director of Egypt's national archives, wrote on his Facebook account that he believed the islands were Egyptian, citing to testimony by Finnish explorer Georg August Wallin, who visited Sinai twice in the 19th century and wrote that the local tribes of Sinai used to stay at Tarin Island.

El-Adl also revealed that in 1937 the Egyptian government had a map that recognised both Tiran and Sanafir islands as part of the Egyptian territories, using the same colour scheme used for Sinai.

He added that according to that map the Egyptian government took the decision to send troops to both islands in January 1950.

He also revealed that in February 1950 the Egyptian finance ministry issued an internal memo stating the island was Egyptian.

Former Egyptian ambassador to Saudi Arabia and member of the Egyptian peace talks with Israel El-Siyad El-Masry said on his Facebook account that Tiran island was Egyptian while Sanafir was Saudi.

He said that in 1950, when the Egyptian troops were stationed in both islands, the Saudi King Abdel-Aziz Al-Saud sent a telegram to King Farouk of Egypt endorsing the Egyptian decision to station troops in the "Saudi" Sanafir to protect the nation.

El-Masry revealed that he was the one who delivered a message from former foreign minister Esmat Abdel-Magid to his Saudi counterpart Saud Al-Faisal saying that Sanafir Island was Saudi.

Online action 

A Facebook event calling for a protest in Tahrir Square next Friday against the Egyptian government's decision has attracted more than 13,000 people who pledged to attend and 28,000 others displaying interest in the event.

An online petition against the decision has also attracted more than 19,000 signatures.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian cabinet issued a statement detailing historical documents, including newspaper articles and letters from Saudi officials, which supported the claim that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia and were temporarily ceded to Egypt.
Despite the criticism, some public figures, including politicians and experts, have supported the argument that two islands are Saudi and should return to their owners. 
Short link: