Egypt parliament to start discussing Red Sea island deal on Sunday

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 11 Jun 2017

Sources said parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal himself will head the debate on the Egyptian-Saudi deal

Tiran & Sanafir
File Photo: An aerial view of the coast of the Red Sea and the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir is pictured through the window of an airplane near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 1, 2016. Picture taken November 1, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The Egyptian parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee will begin discussing a maritime border demarcation deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The deal, which places the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi hands, was signed during Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz's visit to Cairo in April 2016.

The head of the committee Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa told reporters that the discussion of the deal will begin on Sunday and continue through Monday and Tuesday.

"The committee's discussions will proceed according to a fixed timetable and experts on maritime agreements will be invited to give their views so that we can reach a final and correct decision," said Abu Shoqa.

Abu Shoqa said "what is important is that the discussions of the deal, when they do take place, are open and transparent so the public can follow them."

He insisted that "it is also essential that everything is done in conformity with Egypt's 2014 constitution."

Mostafa Bakri, a member of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told Ahram Online that the committee is now well-prepared to begin its review of the controversial agreement.

"We cannot wait for long without parliament opening this deal for discussion," said Bakri, adding that "the agreement was signed one year-and-a-half ago, and now is the right time for it to be discussed, before it is too late."

Bakri said that "professors of history, geography and international law will be invited to address the committee on all pertinent aspects of the deal, and committee members will take all points of view into account before reaching a judgment." 

"I also told parliament speaker and head of the committee that the meetings should be aired live on television, or at least be freely covered by the media," said Bakri.

Bakri said that parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal will head the committee's preliminary debate on the deal.

Bakri says that the discussion of the deal comes after relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia have largely improved in recent weeks.

"Since the old points of disagreement between the two countries – especially on the civil war in Syria - have no longer become an issue, the two countries have now joined in one united front against terrorism," said Bakri.

Bakri said that good Egyptian-Saudi relations do not mean that MPs will rubber stamp the deal.

"All will depend on the debate and what experts will say on this issue," said Bakri.

The deal has faced a number of legal challenges since it was announced in April 2016.

In January, the High Administrative Court ruled that the deal was null and void.

In April, however, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters ruled that administrative courts had no jurisdiction over border deals.

On Thursday, parliament's 25-30 bloc said in a statement that "it is very bad that parliament chose to open discussion on the Egyptian-Saudi deal at this crucial time."

"Parliament should first respect court rulings, observe the principle of separation of powers, and uphold the rule of law," the bloc said, insisting that "the whole matter should first be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) so that it can decide whether administrative courts have jurisdiction over these kinds of border deals."

The statement added that "if the SCC confirms that administrative courts have no jurisdiction, then we will accept that parliament begins discussing the deal. However, if the SCC rules that administrative courts have complete jurisdiction on this issue, then parliament should respect the ruling and stop discussion at once."

The 25-30 bloc also advised that a referendum should be held if parliament decides that Egypt cede the two islands.

"This goes in line with the constitution," said the bloc.

The group stressed that "all MPs should be keen to attend all meetings on the Egyptian Saudi deal."

"We should be available at all times and always keen to discuss all aspects of the agreement out of respect for our voters who lent us their trust," said the bloc.

The bloc added that all procedures should be in line with the constitution, with the final vote to be aired on live TV.

"The government should be ready to submit all documents on this deal, and parliament should invite all kinds of experts without discriminating between opponents and proponents of the deal." 

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