Egypt’s cabinet publishes historical docs backing Saudi Red Sea islands claim

Ahram Online , Tuesday 12 Apr 2016

The cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre said the announcement that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir belong to Saudi Arabia was the result of six years of consultations

A picture 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 Straits of Tiran between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia (AFP)

An Egyptian governmental body released a statement on Monday detailing the evidence supporting the state's recognition of Saudi sovereignty over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

The decision last week to recognise Saudi sovereignty over the islands, which came during a historic five-day visit to Cairo by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has caused controversy in Egypt, with some public figures arguing the islands are Egyptian.

On Monday the cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre documented the chronology behind the Saudi claim to the islands, which are located in the Gulf of Aqaba.

“The current agreement of maritime border demarcation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia was not a quick decision taken during King Salman’s visit to Egypt,” read the statement.

“It came based on studies and opinions of the National Committee for Egyptian Maritime Border Demarcation, which work lasted for six years, and also based on a number of meetings between both sides for months," the statement read.

The statement said that in 1950, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to put both islands under Egyptian management “as both countries wanted to consolidate the Arab military position to face Israel given the islands’ strategic position, and also to strengthen the Egyptian military defence in Sinai as well as the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, especially as Zionist gangs occupied Om El-Rashash port on 9 March 1949, and given the presence of Israel in Aqaba Gulf which came after that.”

Letters, articles, maps

The statement cited a number of sources in support of its argument, including a number of screenshots. 

The statement referred to a letter sent by Saudi King Abdulaziz in February 1950 to a Saudi minister in Cairo, as well as letters between the Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers in 1988 and 1989, which ask that the two islands are returned to Saudi sovereignty as the reasons for them being lent to Egypt are over.

The cabinet also referred to a letter sent by the American ambassador to Egypt to the American secretary of state in 1950 that prove that Tiran and Sanafir are Saudi.

“Foreign Office informed Embassy by aide-mémoire that because of certain pretensions (Velléités) manifested by Israel authroties recently toward Tiran and Sanafir Islands in Red Sea at the entrance of Gulf of Akaba, the Egyptian Government, in perfect accord with SAG [Saudi Arabia Government], had occupied the islands,” the American ambassador's letter reads.

The statement also refers to a 1973 map which shows the islands are Saudi according to international law and UN maritime law.

The statement also links to a New York Times article from 19 January 1982, which it describes as “confirming that Israel's fears that the Egyptians would give the islands back to their Saudi owners after Egyptian-Saudi relations return to normal.”

According to the article:

"The two islands were transferred by Saudi Arabia to Egyptian control in 1950 because the Saudis feared an Israeli attempt to seize them. Along with the rest of Sinai, they fell under Israeli control in the 1967 war, but Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Fahd said recently that he would ask Egypt, after regaining them in April, to return them to Saudi sovereignty."

Mohamed ElBaradei, an international lawyer and former Egyptian vice president, also makes an appearance in the statement. A screenshot of an article by ElBaradei, taken from an unspecified international legal journal, is also included.

The article, “The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty and Access to the Gulf of Aqaba: A New Legal Regime,” states: “The islands of Tiran and Sanafir...have been under Egyptian occupation since 1950.” The article also says that the Strait of Tiran is “within the territorial sea of Egypt.”

The cabinet’s statement also refers to a presidential decree in 1990 that mentions the maritime borders of the country, which cites the two islands as being outside Egypt's borders.

According to the statement, the maritime border demarcation announcement came last week because of an agreement to build a bridge betweenEgypt and Saudi Arabia, a decision also announced last week.

Such a project requires determining borders precisely, according to the statement, which adds that there are many precedents of countries that sealed border agreements to establish bridges.

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.

Egypt's parliament, the House of Representatives, is expected to review the new technical deal aimed at drawing the maritime borders. soon. According to the Egyptian constitution, the agreement should be approved by the parliament in order to be finalised.

The deal, which leaves the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir within the regional waters of Saudi Arabia, has left MPs divided.

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