Egypt parliament approves Saudi King's Sinai development programme

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 4 Jun 2016

Egypt MPs approved Saturday that Saudi King Salman's Sinai development programme needs only to be discussed and voted on by parliament without putting it to a national referendum

King Salman in Egypt Parliament
File Photo: Saudi Arabia's King Salman (L) speaks at the Egyptian parliament house in Cairo, Egypt, April 10, 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of Saudi press Agency)

Egypt's parliament approved a report prepared by the legislative and constitutional affairs committee on a Saudi-Egyptian loan agreement aimed at developing the Sinai peninsula in a plenary session Saturday.

The agreement, titled King Salman's programme for the development of the peninsula of Sinai, was signed by government officials from the two countries in Riyadh in March. The agreement was aimed at giving Egypt a $1.5 billion soft loan to help it develop Sinai and buy Saudi oil products needed for development purposes.

"As much as half-a-billion dollars from the total loan amount will be allocated to developing Sinai in the form of building King Salman's University in Al-Tor city, funding a series of agricultural and irrigation projects, and upgrading North Sinai's network of roads," said the committee's report, adding that the remaining amount ($1 billion) will be earmarked for buying Saudi oil products, which "Egypt needs for development purposes".

According to the report, the loan agreement is in line with Article 151 of the Egyptian Constitution that notes that the state's foreign agreements can go into effect only after being approved by parliament and as long as these agreements do not lead Egypt to ceding part of its territory to another country. 

"As long as the King Salman Sinai development programme agreement does not affect any of Egypt's sovereign rights, it will not be put to a public referendum and will only need parliament's approval to go into effect," the committee said.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al said: "It is clear that the Sinai development agreement with Saudi Arabia does not affect Egypt's sovereign rights in Sinai in any way, and as a result this agreement will not be put to a public referendum."

The majority of MPs voted in favour of the committee opinion as expressed in its report.

Abdel-Al said that the report will be referred back to the committees of economic affairs and legislative and constitutional affairs to be discussed further, with the two committees preparing a report on the loan agreement to be reviewed and voted on by parliament in a plenary session.

The Saudi loan agreement comes ahead of another controversial Saudi-Egyptian agreement on the demarcation of territorial waters between the two countries.

The agreement, signed between the governments of the two countries during King Salman's visit to Egypt in April, placed the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir into the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia.

The so-called "Tiran and Sanafir agreement" caused street protests on 15 and 25 April in Downtown Cairo and led to three members of the council of the Journalists' Syndicate being put on trial on charges of helping two journalists - who called for protests against the agreement - hide in the syndicate's building.

In a television interview that marked his second year in office Friday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi disclosed that the Red Sea agreement with Saudi Arabia will be discussed by parliament and that it is up to parliament to give the final say on it. 

"Parliament's committees, which will discuss this agreement, will do their job freely and without facing pressure from any entity," said El-Sisi.

El-Sisi also stressed that Egypt's relationship with Saudi Arabia is strong and that all attempts aimed at disrupting this relationship have failed.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, chairman of parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee, told reporters that, "Egypt's Red Sea agreement with Saudi Arabia will be first reviewed by the committee to see if it is in line with Article 151 of the constitution."

"If this Red Sea agreement, like King Salman's loan agreement on the development of Sinai peninsula, is found not in violation of Article 151 of the constitution, it would be discussed by parliament only, without resorting to a public referendum," Abu Shoka noted.

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