Court for Urgent Matters says Egypt's Administrative Court had no jurisdiction over Red Sea islands case

El-Sayed Gamal El-Din , Sunday 2 Apr 2017

Tiran & Sanafir
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)

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters ruled on Sunday that the country's High Administrative Court (HAC), which ruled in January that the two Islands of Tiran and Sanafir belong to Egypt, had no jurisdiction over the matter.

The April 2016 decision by the Egyptian government to transfer the two strategic islands at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia sparked widespread public outcry and legal challenges.

However, Malek Adly, one of the lawyers who challenged the Egypt-Saudi agreement in front of the HAC, told Ahram Online after today's ruling that the Court for Urgent Matters is a lower court and cannot, therefore, challenge verdicts made by the HAC.

The former head of Egypt's State Council, Judge Mohamed Hamed El-Gamal, told Ahram Online that the two conflicting verdicts by the two courts are immediately executionable and the situation creates a legal dilemma.

El-Gamal explained that the Supreme Constitutional Court will have to rule on which court ruling should take precedence.

In November 2016, weeks before the HAC January ruling, the government filed a case with the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) arguing that the HAC has no jurisdiction in matters related to sovereignty and thus its verdicts on the issue should be anulled. The SCC has not yet decided to hear this case.

In June 2016, the HAC ruled that the Egyptian-Saudi deal was null and void. The government immediately appealed that decision.

In September 2016, a Cairo Court for Urgent Matters agreed with a separate complaint filed by the government against the HAC's June ruling and suspended that verdict.

Lawyer Ashraf Farahat, who in his capacity as a concerned citizen filed the lawsuit, which was ruled on today, told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that the new verdict from the Court of Urgent Matters didn not specify whether the islands were Saudi or Egyptian.

Farahat said the verdict only affirmed that the HAC has no jurisdiction to rule on the issue, since it is a matter relating to sovereignty.

He explained that he filed the lawsuit because, according to Article 11 of Egypt’s State Council law, the HAC should not rule on such cases, which should be left to the parliament to vote on.

In March, Egypt's Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said parliament will discuss and vote on the deal, despite the final annulment of the deal by the HAC.

Abdel-Aal said that parliament will discuss the deal "in accordance with its constitutional powers… once some procedures and paperwork are completed in the next few days."

Parliament has not voted on the deal yet.

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