Friday 'protests' against Red Sea islands agreement face uncertainties

Ahram Online , Thursday 14 Apr 2016

Protest Press Syndicate
Egyptian activists shout anti-President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and government slogans during a demonstration protesting against the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, April 13, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

As a call on Facebook for Egyptians to protest on Friday against the recent cabinet's decision to acknowledge Saudi Arabia's sovereingty over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir attracted interest, supporters of the idea seemed divided down the stretch over how to proceed following the Muslim Brotherhood's last minute decision to join the demonstrations.

On Sunday, two days after Egypt agreed to give the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a maritime redrawing accord, a group of anonymous individuals launched a Facebook page titled ‘The Land is the Honour,’ and called on Egyptians who reject the decision to join street protests in a number of cities after Friday noon prayers.

A week of arguments

Since the announcement by the Egyptian government on Saturday that it agreed to return the two islands off the coast of Sharm El-Sheikh in Sinai to the Saudi kingdom, Egypt has seen heated debates and controversy.

Some political forces and figures have argued that the two islands are Egyptian and called on the cabinet to reverse itself or call for a referendum on the matter.

The Egyptian government has explained that its decision, which was announced during a visit by the Saudi King Salman to Cairo, comes after a six-year process of studies and 11 rounds of negotiations between officials and experts from Cairo and Riyadh.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told public figures on Wednesday that the parliament would vote on the agreement before final ratification.

MPs from Support Egypt, the parliament's largest bloc, have said that while they tentaively believe the government's decision to return the islands to Saudi sovereinty is legally sound, adding, however, said that they would still review the deal before they make a final decision.

Alaa Abed, the head of the parliamentary bloc of the right-of-centre Free Egyptians Party (FEP), which has the largest number of seat by any one political party in the house, said that if parliament finds that official documents prove Saudi ownership over the islands, the FEP bloc would vote for the agreement.

Small parties reject but no protest

Several small political parties have rejected the decision, but have not endorsed any calls for protest, opting instead to back other measures to stop the return of the islands.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), which announced on Monday that it opened its headquarters for the public to issue powers of attorney to file a lawsuit in order to stop the implementation of the agreement, has not endorsed the call for protests.

Egypt's Popular Alliance Party have also announced their support of Friday protests.

The Popular Current, which was founded by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi who opposes the agreement, has not endorsed the protests.

Brotherhood angers potential protesters  

In the begining of the week, the anonymous ‘Land is the honour’ had called on its fresh followers online to march from 30 different mosques and churches onto Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Supporters of small January 25 groups of the 6 April Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists called supported the call for protests.

However, by the end of the week, sentiments to support the Friday rallies was thrown into disarray when the now-banned Brotherhood organisation formally endorsed the rallies and called on its members to take to the streets.

"To all Egyptians, the picture has become clear. We are facing a group of criminals who are committing a gross violation against our land and history and honour. This is the time for unity," the Brotherhood said in a statement on Thursday calling on supporters to join the planned protests to "save the country," and "launch a spark of anger."

Immediately after the statement was released on the Brotherhood's website, many non-Islamist opponents of the Egyptian-Saudi agreement denounced the Brotherhood's decision to join the rally, accusing them of attempting to "hijack the movement in order to put forward their own anti-government agenda."

"We who called for the [protests] on Friday refuse the attempts of some Muslim Brotherhood members and figures from other political powers to hijack our event on Friday as they have previously done throughout the revolution," the admins on "The Land is The Honour" Facebook page said.

"We will not allow any political current to exploit this event for its own interests and steer it away from its main aim, which is to preserve Egyptian land and sovereignty," they said, warning all participants against raising any brotherhood slogans.

Police insist on 'legtimacy'

Some non-Islamist activists have argued they fear that the Egyptian authorities might use the Brotherhood's participation as an excuse to crack down on protesters.

On Thursday afternoon, Egypt's Ministry of Interior called on citizens not to be duped into following the calls made by the Brotherhood, warning against any attempts to upset the legitimate order.

The ministry said it would take the necessary and decisive measures to ensure security and stability.

The ministry also said it had not received any request to organise protests on Friday.

Protest without prior official notification and approval has been criminalised in Egypt since November 2013. The authorities has dispersed many unpermitted demonstrations since then and arrested hundreds for for breaking the Protest law.

Friday uncertain

On Thursday night, Ahram Online learned that several revolutionary and youth movements are planning to organise a separate protest against the ceding of the islands on Friday at 5pm on the steps of the press syndicate in downtown Cairo.

These groups include the 6 April Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Strong Egypt Party – which is lead by former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh –Youth for Justice and Freedom, and the Resistance student movement.

By Thursday night, the liberal Constitution Party, which has opposed the return of the islands to Saudi Arabia as an unconstitutional decision, issued a statement saying it fully supports the legal right of its members and all others to participate in any peaceful protests on Friday.

The party rebuked the Brotherhood's decision to join the protests, accusing them of betraying the people time and again, and insisted that the Islamist group no longer has a place among revolutionaries. It called on the interior ministry to provide full protection to peaceful protesters according to their constitutional rights, and warned the police against using repressive measures. 

Short link: